DIAL M FOR MURGATROYD
Eastern Angles at the Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich
Amateur sleuth Miss Murgatroyd is summoned from her quiet Little Inkling village to the Fitzall family seat at Great Clumping – we're in Agatha Christie territory for this country house murder mystery, the 25th Christmas show for Eastern Angles, and the 13th created by the matchless team of Julian Harries and Pat Whymark.
They'll do seventy-six shows over the next couple of months, in Woodbridge and Peterborough as well as their home at the Sir John Mills.
Dial M for Murgatroyd is two hours of madcap fun, with songs, dance and just a little audience participation. As usual, a virtue is made of the necessity of doing much with little – the economy is often the joke: doubling actors suddenly leave the stage, and in one priceless sequence, exchange dialogue as both Murgatroyd and the Scottish rubber baron Sir Gerald Bartrum. This is the amazingly versatile Patrick Marlowe, who also gives us the lusty butcher Mr Prickett, the strange Sergeant Ramirez, a girl guide, a tramp in the woods and Braintree, the butler. The scenery and props are similarly minimal: a tiny library, a minuscule butcher's shop, a handlebar bicycle, a dashboard car and a Morrison's trolley aeroplane all have their part to play.
The gratuitous, surreal and silly wing-walking number is a high point, and I also liked the clever "Agree to Differ" duet, and the Village chorus that opens and closes the show: "the butcher, the baker, the grim undertaker" ...
Harries himself plays the piano accordeon, the slightly soft-headed Fitzall, the alliterative Bertie Blue from the Butler Bureau, and the plodding Inspector Jessop. Lady Violet Fitzall, whose letter brings Miss M to the crime scene, is played by Emma Finlay, who also goes deliciously over the top as the mysterious Mad Meg.
Georgina, the Fitzall daughter, adventuress and prime suspect, is Deborah Howlett, and another newcomer, Samuel Martin, plays the librarian, butlers Barking and Wivenhoe, the fey Fenton Fitzall and a mean fiddle.
Yes, there are Essex jokes, Ipswich jokes, plenty of puns and sneaky smut, owls and sheep, marrow double entendres, cross talk routines, echoes of Blackadder, Round the Horne and even panto, all delivered with wild-eyed relish, irrepressible energy and a mischievous sense of fun.
It's the plum pudding to the panto's turkey and trimmings: no big names or big egos, no glitter or glamour, just five brilliantly funny performers and Penny Griffin setting the props, manning the board and keeping the whole show on the rails.
production photograph: Mike Kwasniak