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Midnight Murder at Hamlington Hall

Midnight Murder at Hamlington Hall
Writers: Mark Kilmurry, Jamie Oxenbould
Director: Mark Kilmurry
Ensemble Theatre
December 1, 2023 – January 13, 2024

Would you like to go to the theatre and enjoy a night of sheer fun, ridiculous antics and hilariously organised chaos? As good as pre-Christmas drinks, the Ensemble’s absurd romp Midnight Murder at Hamlington Hall offers a welcome escape from responsible adulthood and permission to indulge in giggling at Kilmurry and Oxenbould’s cheerfully zany take on the well-worn phrase “What could go wrong?”

Everything – when the setting is the opening night of an amateur production by Middling Cove Players of the director-writer Shane Tweed’s (Sam O’Sullivan) new murder mystery. The leading actors are abuzz with excitement and living their dream. Phillipa (Eloise Snape) arrives early warming up very conspicuously, very graciously brushing off compliments on her “star” qualities and flirting with Tweed. They are joined by Barney (Jamie Oxenbould, a latter-day Bottom) and grim stage manager Karen (Ariadne Sgouros) who thinks community service in a theatre is minimally better than picking up rubbish.

Excitement changes to panic. They learn that seven members of the cast have the “lurgy” and Tweed reveals that the continued existence of the Players is dependent upon a report from Middling Cove Council who are attending the show. Nevertheless, after some entertaining badinage they agree that “the show must go on” – despite a dour “Why?” from Karen – and adopt Tweed’s plan. All three actors still standing and a surprisingly talented Karen will play all 13 characters plus an impromptu and unpromising volunteer and Karen’s 12-year-old niece takes on the role of lighting and sound.

Perfect. The show featuring an eccentric parson’s will and consequent competition between possible heirs and two murders – a laughable travesty of Christie-style country house mysteries – will go on and indeed, what could go wrong?

Nothing in terms of providing the audience with opportunities for helpless laughter, explosive chortles and inane giggling. Good timing so important to the stage is absurdly reversed and bad timing with the need for constant costume changes becomes the source of much of the comedy as do the costumes – especially a very silly toupée. The accurate placing of furniture and props to facilitate smooth stage action is beautifully miscalculated to produce sustained hilarity and dysfunctional doorknobs and soda syphons contribute to the fun. That dreaded bug-bear of the small theatre productions – outside noise – becomes part of the comedy in the form of Jenny Cacciella’s imminent 21st birthday party.

It is very apparent that the very busy cast enjoy orchestrating the chaos. Oxenbould’s Barney, Benson the butler, Giles the farmer-manager of Hamlington Estate, playboy Taffy Hemingway, Colonel Muster and on one occasion Freddie Pennington-Ermington, is always exceptionally funny as he zooms from role to role and he is well supported by a versatile Snape as Phillipa, Mrs Gloria Whittington, Lady Smythe and delightful sea-farer Ingrid. O’Sullivan in a lovely blue self-striped suit is very Agatha Christie as Detective Black and Sgouros as Margaret Mathewson, a nurse and clairvoyant, Madame Esmeralda of the very large blue cloak, is suitably bossy in both roles.

All secrets cannot be revealed. What is the outcome of the game? Who is the murderer? Do the Middling Cove Players get to keep their performance space? Whatever the outcome, amateur theatre will survive for the very reason that the audience loved Midnight Murder at Hamlington Hall and actors and creatives are motivated by a passion for the stage.

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