After a few days of some quite intense dramas, the time seemed to be ripe for engaging with something light, airy and undemanding; after all play going is supposed to be an entertaining activity. Murder mysteries often provide that sort of profile. Comedy murder mysteries even more so. A musical comedy murder mystery really starts to up the fun quotient. So, a camp musical comedy murder mystery based around the world of show biz itself should really be going for broke. And A Killer Party currently available on stream.theatre certainly does that, even dividing itself into nine easily digestible chunks which can be spread out over a number of days if so desired. In the interests of this review, I consumed them over just the one day.
Unlike many another attempt at a socially distanced musical, this is not an established show that has been repurposed having been devised in New York just last year; this outing is its UK premiere. The creative team behind it (Book – Rachel Axler and Kait Kerrigan, Music – Jason Howland and Lyrics – Nathan Tysen) are not particularly “names” on this side of the pond but a quick bit of Googling reveals that they have form in the States and, between them, they are unafraid to satirise various genres and musical styles. There have been some minor rewrites for the UK market (Duluth, Minnesota becomes Blackpool, Lancashire) otherwise it seems to be pretty much as the original, using some familiar faces from the West End and from TV to act as the cast.
I wouldn’t worry too much about the story which has more holes than a slab of Emmenthal – although its resemblance to cheese in other areas is far more intentional – but here’s a summary anyway. The strangely named small time impresario Varthur McArthur (he once played Gavroche in Les Mis) calls a group of six luvvies together to read through his latest masterpiece “Circus Steamboat Murder — Death on the High Seas Trapeze.” Of course, being a preliminary read through they all turn up in costume (!!) and all with a solid reason for wanting McArthur dead. Which he very soon is, face down in a bowl of gluten free bisque (cheese flavour – of course). For reasons that I fail to recall, the investigation of the murder falls to an inexperienced traffic cop who interviews the suspects in separate rooms of the house which cues in some knowing jokes about the filmed locations. This structure also provides a nice excuse to give everyone a big number with some nifty filming and editing used to detract from the fact that dancing isn’t going to really work for head and shoulders video framing. After plenty of red herrings (makes a change from all the cheese) the killer is revealed and everyone apart from her/him lives happily ever after, presumably.
To get the mark of the piece you need look no further than the characters all of whom are blatant but amusing stereotypes of theatre folk; the megalomaniac director, the embittered leading lady, the career digging ingenue and the screamingly camp designer who seems permanently confused about where real life ends and McArthur’s script begins. You really need look no further than their names – Shea Crescendo, Vivika Orsonwelles and so on. The detective is called Justine Case (yes, it IS that kind of show) and there’s even a suspect rejoicing in the moniker of George Murderer (it’s a family name, apparently). There are all the expected tropes of self damning dialogue, histrionic confessions and a Cluedo-like list of possible murder methods with nods to Agatha Christie and Murder She Wrote. The latter comes courtesy of a framing device in which Harriet Thorpe plays an older version of the detective writing her memoirs. In truth this probably doesn’t add much but it’s good fun anyway. Ditto a cameo appearance by bona fide West End lead Ben Forster who won the Lloyd Webber talent show – Superstar. The definite star turn as far as camp acting and ballsy singing is concerned comes from Oscar Conlon-Morrey particularly when he dons a multitude of costumes to become his own backing chorus in one of his big numbers. I also enjoyed Ashley Samuels turn as permanent chorus boy, Cameron Mitchelljohn. If you’re a fan of Jason Manford, though, you might feel a little cheated.
Everybody is wildly over the top and there’s definitely no attempts at subtlety – in fact it would be disappointing if there were. There are some flamboyantly inventive touches from director Benji Sperring and in the cinematography of Click Boom Studios, though I couldn’t decide whether the often mismatched voice synching was a deliberate in joke or a piece of poor editing*. Devised for performance over the internet I can’t ever see this making it to an actual stage but it’s good to see some specially devised material which embraces the new art form. This show is probably a joke that goes on for too long but it’s so wonderfully silly, committed and fun to watch that all can be forgiven. In fact (and I’m really really really sorry about this but I just can’t help myself) they definitely get away with murder!
*So, apparently this may just have been because the file was too large for my internet to cope with. In any case I wouldn’t let that put you off as it all becomes part of the fun
A Killer Party is available until the end of May in 9 episodes via stream.theatre – click here
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