A Dickensian Murder Mystery Dinner
at The Portsmouth Guildhall
Reviewed by Nicola McCallum
I have a love of a good whodunit whether it is a film, television show or a book but one thing I have never encountered before is a murder mystery evening. I was unsure of what to really expect but I am game for anything and was willing to put my detective skills to the test.
The scenario was explained on the menu and was set in the Victorian era (Victorian dress was optional). The evening entailed a dinner party held in the honour of the engagement of Master Edwin Drood and Miss Rosa Budd, with 5 others on the guest list. However Edwin had gone missing and we would have the opportunity to meet the characters and discuss with them what they may have witnessed during our meal.
Upon our arrival I was impressed with the venue, the Guildhall is an impressive building and we were soon escorted to our table in the Banqueting suite. There were four tables set for 10 people and placed on the table was a sheet describing some Victorian parlour games. It was great to see such a mixture of guests in attendance, from a couple celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary, people on a work Christmas night out to some people just attending for a night out with friends.
Almost immediately upon our arrival we were greeted by some of the characters of the evening. The charming host Mr John Jasper guided us to our table and introduced Miss Rosa Budd and explained that we were awaiting the arrival of Master Edwin Drood setting the scene for the evening along with formally introducing all the characters of the evening. As we became acquainted with the other guests at our table events started to unfold around us and we witnessed some key events and we were drawn into the scenario. While we settled, the characters then came round the tables introducing themselves further and we were given some pieces of paper which were clues which we hoped would make some more sense later on in the evening.
As we were left to our thoughts our roasted butternut squash soup arrived on our table. It did not disappoint as it was full of flavour and had just the right consistency and was well received by all on the table. As we enjoyed our soup we discussed the clues which we had been given and gave our thoughts to the events which had unfolded just prior. Once our starter was cleared Mr John Jasper explained that he could still not find the guest of honour and all the characters then discussed when they had seen him last and his state of mind when they had last saw him. The characters then dispersed onto the tables which gave us the opportunity to ask each character any questions we had for them. During this time we were also given insight into the character of each person, discovering a secret affair, an opium user and the possibility that the missing Edwin may also be someone who was smuggling opium. We were already discussing possible suspects and motives.
Our main course was a traditional Christmas dinner of roast turkey, winter vegetables with all the trimmings and again the food excelled. Every plate on the table was empty and we even found the waiting staff had placed an extra dinner on the table (our table had an empty place sitting for Edwin) and after a little bit of discussion and some encouragement two of the men on our table ensured that the extra food that was served did not go to waste. As we waited for the next sequence of events to unfold some of us noticed that they had sighted a strange man walking through our dining area. At this point we realised that this character may be of interest to us but before we had a chance to discuss it further John Jasper asked us if we could assist in the search of Edwin.
The next part I was unprepared for as we left the Banqueting hall through a darkened hall and into what appeared to be the chambers of the guildhall compete with some theatrical lighting. Once again we stumbled across some private discussions between characters which added to the mystery and gave us more questions. It was only then we discovered what we all probably already knew, that Edwin had been killed. It was pleasant to have a change of venue although some members of the party missed some key pieces of information. This was not due to the efforts of the cast of actors but more due to the actions of some individuals being louder than necessary and the actors tried their hardest to overcome some of the issues which arose.
Once we had discovered the fate of Edwin and heard alibis, accusations and motives we proceeded back to the banqueting hall to enjoy our dessert of warm moist Christmas pudding and custard. Once again our discussion centred round our suspicions and most of us had narrowed our suspects down to at least two although one member of our table had four possible suspects. While we were enjoying coffee and mince pies we were given the opportunity to question each of the suspects for one minute. This gave us a chance to ask each individual any questions we may have had although with only 1 minute per suspect and with 10 people on the table we struggled to ask all the questions we had for each person.
Just as we had thought it was over our mystery man who we had seen on a number of occasions throughout the night turned out to be a secret detective. He had been undercover investigating opium dealing and had stumbled across a murder. He proceeded to explain every suspect’s possible motive and their secrets before outing the murderer, who then proceeded to try and kidnap one of the characters before coming to an untimely death.
I thoroughly enjoyed my evening and would recommend it to anyone who believes that they are the next Miss Marple or to someone who is just looking for a night out with a difference. It was also lovely as it also gave me the opportunity to meet some new and interesting people and with the scenario it was perfect at breaking the ice and engaging with others who otherwise I may not have spoken to. Priced at £37 per person my first thoughts were that it was a little bit on the expensive side. Now I have experienced this I think this is good value for money. The food and the service was excellent and the entertainment was great. Overall the experience lasted for just over 2.5 hours and it flowed at a good pace.
At the end of the evening I had the opportunity to speak with one of the actors and one thing I was slightly confused about was the sheet of paper on each table describing the Victorian parlour games which did not seem to have any significance during the evening. I was told that they do normally get the chance for everyone to partake in a Victorian parlour game but they had made the decision not to do so on this occasion as some of the table were more rowdy than others. Although I was a little disappointed I felt that this was probably the right decision due to the circumstances, I believe this also showed the level of experience that the cast have as they are able to tailor the evening to suit the atmosphere that has been created on each evening.
Overall I would rate this evening 4.5/5. I would happily attend another murder mystery hosted by Dark Encounters and after discussing my evening with friends it looks like I have plenty of volunteers willing to come with me.
For more information about Dark Encounters Murder Mystery Nights visit www.darkencounters.co.uk.