+3 Review: Criminology 303 (Venue 13: 6-27 August: 21.30: 35 mins)

“An intriguing drama”

Editorial Rating: 2 Stars

Criminology 303 is an interesting concept – flipping between alternate scenes 40 years apart. Initially we meet retired detective Norma Bates (Jilly Bond) in 2016 reflecting on an unsuccessful investigation from her past, before the action reverts to 1976 where she is in the thick of it. We learn early on how this (the only unsolved case of her career) clearly still haunts her, so an intriguing drama is set up as to whether she might finally solve it on our presence.

Bond does a great job in switching between the two ages of her character – the crabby older version is a distinct progression from her greener and more confident younger self. And although prone to some overacting (I think her initial terror at the power point presentation misbehaving is a bit extreme), she shows great skill and stamina to drive the action in both scenarios.

This production’s main downfall, however, is its length. At barely half an hour, it feels like it only just gets going before very abruptly ending. There is no satisfactory resolution, no real sense of progression in either story beyond some scene-setting, and consequently the whole thing feels a bit pointless.

I would have liked to see the 2016 scenario develop into a discursive and positive look back at the case with a view to at long last solving it, rather than being a very rushed ghost story that scares Bates away from her own lecture. The pace of Bates’ descent into terror in this part feels very disingenuous, subverting the strength her character should have had (after 40 years in the force), so to me a more subtle and drawn-out approach here would have been more powerful.

In the flashback scenes Julian Gartside is commandingly creepy as Mr McLeod, yet Tommo Fowler’s direction has him physically touch and overpower Bates as detective on more than one occasion, which again feels forced and comes across as a cheap way to demonstrate status quickly, when other techniques would have had greater impact. The scene-setting and background to the background of the case in this scene is very well developed and delivered by Gartside, if seemingly a little irrelevant from the main story, but again I can’t help but feel this all would have been so much more effective if we got to see more about how the action panned out in the end – it is a frustrating beginning to a chapter that ends mid-sentence.

Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 24 August)


The Perfect Murder (King’s Theatre: 1 – 5 March ’16)

Jessie Wallace and Shane Ritchie. Image credit: Honeybunn photography

Jessie Wallace and Shane Ritchie.
Image credit: Honeybunn photography

“Dark humour and plenty of jumpy moments ensure sheer entertainment”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

An (almost) Perfect Murder is taking place at the King’s this week, which, on the whole, I think is worth witnessing. Despite the slightly shaky plot and occasional drop in pace and energy, this stage adaptation of Peter James’ original novella is filled with enough dark humour and jumpy moments throughout to ensure a thoroughly entertaining production.

The plot centres around the rocky married life of Joan and Victor Smiley, played by Jessie Wallace and Shane Richie of Eastenders fame, as they each plot to kill the other in order to run away with their respective new lovers and start a new life on a beach in Spain drinking mojitos all day. Idyllic? These characters seem to think so, and what ensues is a darkly funny and occasionally completely ridiculous two hours, as they attempt to carry out their cunning plan.

The majority of the audience are clearly there to see ‘Kat and Alfie’ in action, yet as the play progresses and we witness the duo in their first scene alone on stage together, the shadow of the soap opera couple diminishes and Wallace and Richie prove they are not one trick ponies, with convincing performances of new characters. The chemistry that works so well between the two on screen is immediately evident on stage, and despite the potentially dull moments of petty marital bickering throughout the first act, the two carry this off with such exuberance and fine-tuned comic timing that it is more than bearable to watch. Wallace in particular, through her portrayal of Joan, is successful in being totally neurotic and batty, yet kooky and loveable at the same time, and for me her solo moments on stage were one of the play’s highlights.

While not quite matching up to the prowess of Wallace and Richie, the rest of the cast are largely commendable in their efforts to bring heart to moments in the plot that don’t quite work. Stephen Fletcher as Joan’s ‘new man’ and subsequent partner in crime, Don, was delightful in a simple, buffoonish performance that worked well alongside Wallace’s Joan. Equally, Simone Armstrong as the psychic Croat prostitute provides necessary comedy and warmth. Benjamin Wilkin’s DC Grace falls slightly off the mark, and there is an immediate drop in the pace of the action in his scenes with Armstrong. While Grace doesn’t seem to do any policing and comes across as quite an unnecessary character altogether, there is definitely potential for a deeper exploration of character to create more interest that Wilkin does not fully exploit.

Michael Holt’s set works well alongside the action, using large homey rooms built on top of one another in a house-like structure to provide the different locations in the plot. High-pitched screams and ghostly flashing lights, reminiscent of an old-school horror movie, do add a certain haunted air that ensures many a jolt of shock among the audience. Director Ian Talbot has led this cast to create an audience-pleasing production whose strong performances allow us to forget about the nitty gritty details of the slightly silly plot and instead enjoy an evening of dark comedy and ultimately, sheer entertainment.

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Rachel Cram (Seen 2nd March)

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An Improvised Murder (New Waverley Arches, 16 – 22 Aug : 20:00 : 1hr)

“It felt like a real murder mystery”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

One can’t really walk for more than five minutes through Edinburgh’s old town in August without someone trying to get you to see something improvised. From musicals to films, Jane Austen to Dickens: you name it, a troupe of overly excited students will improvise it. However I thought I’d see my first “unique” show of the year in a genre I haven’t yet experienced – an improvised murder mystery.

The improvisation follows a familiar formula: a facilitator gathers ideas and directions from the audience as a basis for the players to act out a show. Why? The facilitator needs help to pitch a last minute script to an imaginary producer, and the improvisation will become that script. You’ll follow…

Our show, thanks to audience suggestions, was to be set in a bank in Tyneside, and the troupe got to it right away with barely a moment’s thought. It was a bit of a slow burner to start with as the players established characters and relationships, but when the imaginary producer called to interrupt the action, new suggestions were given to the actors by the facilitator and off we went again.

I was pleasantly surprised at how the group managed to build tension and possible motives for murder following the first interruption. From exposing fraudulent financial activity, to the old favourite of spurned and jealous lovers, it wasn’t long before it felt like a real murder mystery.

As the audience we get to pick who gets killed half way through, and we’re then able to quiz each player with any question we choose, which they answer on the spot. This section was great as we could directly engage with the characters, and I was able to forget that I was watching a completely improvised show.

While it’s a shame that not every suggestion we made was accepted, and that one player had to spend the majority of the show with a pig attached to his leg (not my idea…), the developments and twists did generally turn the drama up a notch, so it was good to have a facilitator adept at knowing when changes need to be made.

It wasn’t perfect though: players at times forgot which accent they were supposed to be doing and occasionally even what their own names were. However, it was certainly a nice change from other improvised shows out there and a very promising Edinburgh debut from Foghorn Improv. As the run goes on and the players get more into the swing of things, I’m sure they’ll shake off these basic errors.

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 16 August)

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