Death By Murder

Mon 12th – Sat 17th August 2013

reviews

Helena Blackstone

at 10:40 on 14th Aug 2013

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Warning: this review will contain plot spoilers. Not that it matters, as the story is never the same. Nottingham University’s improv troupe have decided to create a murder mystery before your very eyes, every day this week.

While the troupe has weaknesses and are not all at the same standard, they do manage to make up for this in a number of ways. There are several performers who are clearly stronger, including Emily Brady and Alex Southern. Luckily, they were appointed main parts for this evening’s performance: she is the inspector who has to solve the murder mystery, and the audience appoints him as murderer for the evening. Ben Hollands is on first and, perhaps because he knows he is the most competent improviser, he gives himself what will likely be a large part: a highly suspicious Gollum-like freak with an evil laugh who collects clumps in every different colour of what we have decided will be the murder weapon – that is, hair.

Brady commands the show with her clearly defined character, and provides narration in order to move the plot along and give the characters some not-so-covert instruction on how to progress, saying things like “it was then, that things got interesting.”

It very much feels like the lighting and tech people form a huge controlling arm of the production. They function as a directing force, carving a plot and dramatic tension out of enforced scene changes and some dramatic music, which created a lot of nose-to-nose staring contests.

It occurs to me that improv is very much a skill, acquired through endless practising and, I would imagine, improved greatly by gaining quite a repertoire of characters, puns and situations. While I might have been able to see the cracks in this performance, this also allowed me to see much of the method that went into it, and how this group filled in those cracks with impressive inspiration, as well as buoying each other up and playing to each others’ strengths. Although, at times, the audience can feel them being a little too careful about pushing one another into situations that might turn out to be too difficult, which was slightly nerve-racking, I get the feeling that, with a little confidence, they might be capable of more than they think.

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Millie Morris

at 10:44 on 14th Aug 2013

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Improvisation is a tricky business. The barrier between audience and players is seemingly broken down at the beginning of this performance, where the director, Rebecca Ellis, implores us to decide who the murderer shall be in a line-up of actors. Unbeknownst to the Inspector (Emily Brady), this character is also allocated a means of murder. It is up to the detective to find out who the culprit is over the course of this improvised play. What ensues is a mostly comical series of scenes which ultimately identify – or mistakenly identify, in this case – the perpetrator of the crime. Where drama could trump this risky improvisation in secure, set dialogue, it is the thrill of live, spontaneous plot unfolding before your very eyes that makes a performance like this so captivating – despite inconsistent comedic value, this interesting endeavour is well worth the watch.

On account of Alex Southern’s curly hair, my fellow audience members decide that he will have killed his victim with these supposedly sinister dark locks. This instigates a riot of hair-related characters: Ben Hollands assumes the role of ‘Boggles’, a hair-obsessed goblin-type who inhabits a small village and is particularly comical, producing witty one-liners and shrill, idiosyncratic delivery.

A farmer, ‘Jeremy’ (Harry Turnbull), and his talking pet ‘Harry the Hare’ (Scott Luland) soon arrive onstage, after Boggles is greeted by one ‘Michael Moore’ (Layla Mannings) who delivers hair for a living. It is interesting that the funniest moments generally appear when an actor makes a linguistic error: Moore, for example, constructs a new character of ‘Boogles’ when accidentally telling Boggles the wrong spelling of his own name. This Boogles, then becomes key to the progression of story and plot since he is the pre-named mop-top criminal.

The in-the-moment dialogue is rife with commendable puns, particularly at the Inspector’s hand: ‘We’ve got hair in our blood’, he says sagely, ‘the roots run deep.’ Although not worthy of laugh-out-loud belly chuckles, this wordplay can certainly be appreciated for the quick-thinking intelligence involved. However, there are a considerable amount of scenes which merit very few laughs: although the actors do their best, comedy cannot be contrived in certain cases. There is a recurring ‘I’m a delivery man’ excuse from Moore, defending his innocence, which wears thin after the seventh time, and, despite Boggles’ general funniness, his performance has a weak moment when he childishly squeals at Boogles that he ‘smell[s] bad’.

The play is overall amusing, interesting and valuable in its sheer unpredictability; the piece would definitely be worth watching again just to see how the action spirals out a second time. We have to remember that, had it not been for an audience member’s brazen suggestion as hair for the murder weapon, the whole thing would have been completely different.

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