Fringe Report

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The Saint Valentine's Day Murder

Brilliantly written, acted, directed, comedy

London - The New Diorama Theatre - 13-14 February 2011 - 19:30 (20:30)

The New Diorama Theatre, 15 - 16 Triton Street, Regents Place, NW1 3BF

Johnny Druitt (Neil Frost) hosts a St Valentine's Day meeting of lonely hearts club Running Out Of Fish - though he's found true love himself and is therefore ineligble. There's four women and - so far - only three men. Male Dr Ratchett, a previous winner of a Most Handsome Man competition, has been delayed. Speed dating commences, with the odd woman out in each round sitting alone with the club's crossword book.

Joan Pizer (Jade Allen) is Welsh, has a phobia for snakes - and squares, which makes being alone with a crossword book hell. She's a lively woman, born on a trampoline, and her part in a circus troupe is to have knives thrown at her. Florrie Maybrick (Laura Ashenden) works on a market stall and has come with her brother - they both speak fluent Cockney - likes to be paid cash-in-hand. Michelle Ostrog (Debbie Bearelle) hovers on the edge of hysteria: 'I'm not mad' she insists, but sounds it, and is evasive about where she's lived for the past year. In an institution?

James Maybrick (Mike Garnell), brother to Florrie, lists the endless household products their market stall sells; he's keen on pythons, detests monkeys. George Chapman (Kevin Haney) is a chef specialising in beef dishes including his speciality, beef chips. Erin Kosminski (Laura Marshall) prefers to be called Kosminski, is a 'window' (widow), given to dramatic stances, deep thought, disagreement. William Gull (Philip North) is an artist and photographer, with a preference for women models, nude. Speed dating goes well, till Michelle Ostrog goes to the lavatory, and makes a discovery which changes the nature of the evening - and calls for the summoning of Jean Pierre Le Poulet (Matthew Woodcock).

The script, by Peter Davis, is honed to razor-sharp - without a spare word to get in the way of well-thought-out back-stories to each character, clever twists to keep the action motoring, and a range of comedy from quiet amusement to some great belly-laughs; from satire to all-out farce. Each character is quickly discernable, and given a range of quirks, so that having nine actors on stage quickly becomes a delight rather than a confusion. As well as being very funny (and fun), it plays the rules of being a proper whodunnit, so there's genuine suspense till the end, and the traditional opportunity to guess the culprit.

Acting is great, the cast is a fine ensemble. This is particular noticeable from the initial structure of the play - rotating speed dating - which puts characters into changing speaking pairs. Jade Allen gives Joan an outrageous Welsh accent and turbocharged personality - Joan Pizer. Laura Ashenden gives pretty Florrie a touching vulnerabity, a very subtle performance. Debbie Bearelle catches Michelle's edge of full-blown lunacy with wit and implication. Neil Frost's Johnny is an charming performance - a mix of nerd and anchor. Mike Garnell's gets liveliness into James, with a cleverly implied shewdness. Kevin Haney gives George an edge of obsession and incipient mania. Laura Marshall is glorious as Kosminski, taking the idea of the caricature foreigner and stretching the comic possibilities. Philip North's William is a fine blend of apparent stupidity, lechery, and restrained humour. Matthew Woodcock delivers the play's cleverly-written star-turn Jean Pierre Le Poulet with an elegant deadpan - the better to release the character's inherent farcical comedy - in a carefully-constructed, fine performance.

The Saint Valentine's Day Murder is a live recording a radio play. The actors are on stage all the time, sitting down at the back of the stage when not performing, coming forward to five microphones when speaking. Actors are made up and costumed, and there's full theatrical lighting. Expert visual direction and subtle choreography of the movement and grouping of actors by Peter Davis let the devices of radio recording quickly feel invisible, and the play comes across as a superb live theatre performance. Brilliantly written, directed and acted, and very very funny.

Cast Credits: (alpha order): Jade Allen - Joan Pizer. Laura Ashenden - Florrie Maybrick. Debbie Bearelle - Michelle Ostrog. Neil Frost - Johnny Druitt. Mike Garnell - James Maybrick. Kevin Haney - George Chapman. Laura Marshall - Erin Kosminski. Philip North - William Gull. Matthew Woodcock - Jean Pierre Le Poulet.

Company Credits: Writer - Peter Davis. Director - Peter Davis. Sound Engineer - Matt Blair. Sound Engineer - Tshari King. Lighting Designer - Frances Brown. Lighting Operator - Gareth Brown. Post Production - Matt Blair. Producer - Frances Kirkham. Producer - Mariele Runacre Temple. Company - Wireless Theatre Company. Website - www.wirelesstheatrecompany.co.uk. Thanks To: The London Dungeon. David at The New Diorama Theatre. Sofie Mason at OffWestEnd.com. Jenny Runacre. Brian Temple. Eye Catching Design, for banners. Nick Hemingway Photography. The Ghost Bus Tour. The Miller Pub. The Old Crown Pub.

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