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Theatre Review: Crimes Under the Sun @ Bath Theatre Royal

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‘Crimes Under the Sun’ by New Old Friends is directed by James Farrell and stars Jill Myers, Jonny McClean, Heather Westwell and Feargus Woods Dunlop – a cast of four actors who have to multi-role between them a dramatis personae of fourteen characters. The somewhat farcical pastiche to the period detective fiction of Agatha Christie clearly took some cues from Patrick Barlow’s multiroling melodrama ‘The 39 Steps’ which played the Criterion in London. Highlighting this similarity isn’t a criticism by any means: if a successful and popular production has found a winning formula then why not emulate it?

This production is a lot less polished than its West End equivalent. It’s unprofessional, but charming, funny and self-aware of the opportunities its lack of slick polish allow, with a cabaret-like inclination to try out outside-the-box ideas and the mixing of comedic modes which create a lovely evening of eclectic silly fun. Some of these choices may have been hit-or-miss, for example the song and dance recapitulation of the character introductions which was questionable whilst endearing – although that being said, it’s a more interesting way to stage Christie’s typical introduction of the future suspects than other plays would think of and was enjoyable.

In a decidedly unserious production the multiroling has hilarious opportunities as in Heather Westwell playing all three policemen in the investigation and having to switch between them in one scene with only her voice and the assistance of a moustache, a pair of glasses and crouching for the short one. However, it means the actors are sometimes relying on a silly voice, a stereotyped physicality and an accent to differentiate the more important characters. The acting is affected but works with our sense of the propriety of the time of writing and also works with the ironic tone of the comedy which has to come from the ridiculousness of the premise.

The acting throughout is good and the silly characters are still made sympathetic, particularly Feargus Woods Dunlop’s Major Peavey. The staging of the various conversations and encounters was never too still but did have the necessary energy to keep the procedural detective plot moving. Jill Myers deserves credit for her portrayal of Artemis Arinae, the Poirot-like detective protagonist-cum-narrator who acts as a very

The tone throughout was fantastic at maintaining at an ironic distance the intoxicatingly pretentious sense of mystery of Christie’s novels. There are modern namedrops and references lightly sprinkled into the script which thanks to a lack of acknowledgement reach the audience without self-congratulation and receive instead rye appreciation and appreciative bemusement.

The last scene is an absolutely fantastic denouement of the multiroling silliness as the characters come together for the ending menagerie of final suspects and the actors are forced into skipping from costume to costume as the crimes, and the theatrical blocking of 8 roles into 4 characters, are solved. There’s real enjoyment for both the audience and the actors in the solving of both the final conundrums and was a good rounding off of the plays most fun features.

The play is going on from Bath to a rather formiddible run of 36 more locations over the next 3 months, details of which can be found here.

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