Denys Edwards Players’ Murdered to Death – Library Theatre, 11 May 2023

Review by Jacob Bush.

Denys Edwards Players have long been a staple of the amateur dramatic scene in Sheffield, but somehow this was my first time seeing one of their productions. This week, they take to the intimate Library Theatre’s stage with Peter Gordon’s comedy thriller Murdered to Death.

The play, set in an English country mansion, tells a story that feels very reminiscent of the likes Agatha Christie – only Gordon throws in a large dollop of comedy and this almost becomes a spoof or parody of the detective crime drama genre. Gordon’s comedy sometimes lands, with some cast members having great comic timing, but at times some of the Gordon’s gags do feel a little overused by the end of the play.

Sue Cox directs the production and does well at keeping the play moving at a good pace. Despite the play only being set in one room in this large house, the play never drags – we’re constantly learning new information and trying to guess who committed the murder. Even with the comedic slant, there is a still tension and the stakes feel high. The intimacy of the venue, and Cox’s direction, brings the audience right into the action and the audience feel like they may be at just as much danger as the characters we see on stage. The set, designed and constructed by Rob Calnan, Alan Mitchell, Keith Houldsworth and Simon Warner, is of a professional standard and wouldn’t feel out of place on the Lyceum stage. It is very believable, which helps to ground the piece in the real world and hence making the stakes feel higher.

The cast all fit their very well written characters brilliantly. Sue McCormick brings a level of class and regality to the show as Mildred, the owner of the house, and has a good rapport with Danni Hibbert as Dorothy. Hibbert shows tremendous range in her performance and has the audience in the palm of her hands as we learn more about her character. John Castell gives a strong performance as Bunting. He has good comic timing and is an excellent character actor.

Michael Bullock showcases his terrific comic timing as Colonel Charles Craddock. He is warm and likeable, despite some morally dubious actions. Angela Blackwell makes a feisty Margaret Craddock, who contrasts Bullock with her lack of patience and desire for control brilliantly. Andy Hibbert and Kate Spivey work together brilliantly as Pierre Marceau and Elizabeth Hartley-Trumpington. When they introduce a certain twist to the tale, you could almost hear audible gasps from the audience.

Richard Bevan gives a fun performance as Inspector Pratt, but his comedic style does wear thin after a while (although this more down to the writing, than Bevan’s performance). Marc Vestey’s Constable Thompkins was a fantastic as the police officer trying to bring a level of professionalism to the proceedings, where the Inspector very much wasn’t. Kath Kenyon completes the cast with her tremendous performance as Miss Joan Maple, a very apparent spoof of the classic character Miss Marple. Every second she is on stage she is a joy to watch. She brings a warmth to the piece, whilst still keeping the audience guessing as to who she might really be and whether she has anything to do with the events that unfold.

Murdered to Death is an enjoyable evening at the theatre and would be enjoyed by anyone who likes a murder mystery. Catch this show before it ends on Saturday.

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