Crimes Under The Sun. The Ustinov, Bath
A dramatic start as the show is delayed after a member of the audience is taken ill – or were they bumped off? Looking around at some of those packed into the intimate seating of the Ustinov Theatre in Bath it’s hard not to conclude that certain individuals look like potential murderers. Take that tall chap with the beard and that woman wearing shades. And then there is the little old lady who nips up the stairs to the theatre like a 20-something. Surely she’s in disguise. It’s all a bit Agatha Christie.
And the latest New Old Friends theatre production of Crimes Under The Sun borrows and lovingly sends up much of Christie’s style borrowed from her novel Then There Were None or A Caribbean Mystery in a riotous farce and a spoof of the island whodunit. With only four actors playing 14 roles the drama has to rely on the audience being in on the joke as the costume changes (or non-changes) become increasingly crazy. With numerous running gags and humorous physical details Crimes Under the Sun directed by James Farrell is a pacey, pun-filled frolic of a show that has the audience chuckling throughout its 90 or so minutes of plot twists and turns.
Feargus Woods Dunlop is the main creative force behind the company and the unfeasibly tall actor who plays at least three characters. He’s at his best as the stiff upper lip Major Peavey and the nerdy Nelson Cholmondeley who believes foreigners are: er… well, foreign.
The play is anchored by the narrator and self-confessed amateur sleuth Artemis Arinae played by Jill Myers who recounts the story and introduces the characters and is occasionally caught up in the events. She holds the chaos together as she retells the story of that crime filled weekend on an island when a group of eccentrics are marooned by a storm. And in a Poirot-esque accent she completes the drama as she whittles down the long list of suspects at the conclusion. The comic drama doesn’t start with a bang and takes a few minutes to warm up but hits top form in a wonderful song and dance routine composed by Kathryn Levell about the joys of being beside the seaside. A couple more musical interjections wouldn’t have taken anything away from this frightfully British production. British in the best tea and cucumber sandwiches type of tradition.
The strength of the show lies in the cast who switch roles at an increasingly frenetic pace rattling out the story from Woods Dunlop’s script. An elastic faced Jonny McClean is the hilarious weird boy Lucien as well as the enjoyable drunk ‘I’m like an animal’ Redwood. And he doubles up as the manic waiter Alcazar and sexist Caledonian Inspector Aquafresh.
One of the many stand-out moments was Heather Westwell playing three policemen at the same time in a drama that had elements of stand-up and improvisation which all added to the mix. Westwell’s scene stealing cleaning lady was a scream while her ability to slip into her various personas was a lesson in character acting as she went from terribly posh to frightfully common in the swish of a mop.
With so much comic content, superb timing and clear diction from a cast who seem to be enjoying the show as much as the audience it really is a crime not to see Crimes Under The Sun.
The play runs at the Ustinov in Bath until February 24th before a nationwide tour ending in May.
For more details visit https://www.theatreroyal.org.uk/your-visit/ustinov/ and for the nationwide tour see www.newoldfriends.co.uk and for more reviews visit www.harrymottram.co.uk
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