15-20 February 2016
Reviewed by Dotty Winters
The Classic Thriller Theatre Company is currently touring with Rehearsal for Murder throughout the UK, and the production is spending half-term week at the glorious Regent Theatre in Stoke-on-Trent. The Regent Theatre is easily in my top 5 places to watch theatre; it’s a traditionally grand theatre, which is very well maintained and staffed by a helpful and knowledgeable team. It’s also right in the centre of Stoke-on-Trent, easy to find, well served by local public transport and parking. The impressive setting creates a real sense of occasion, and it’s no surprise that many of the UK’s biggest productions include the Regent on their schedule.
This production comes from the successful team behind The Agatha Christie Theatre Company and has been written by award-winning writing team Levinson and Link, who are best known for television series Murder, She Wrote and Columbo. In short, the who-dunnit credentials for this play are second to none.
The set up for the play is very much in keeping with the genre: playwright Alex Dennison assembles a cast and crew for a reading of his new play; a play which casts light on events in the same theatre, with the same group of people one year earlier – and the murder of the playwright’s fiancé. All the elements of this somewhat contrived set-up feel distinctly retro and immediately place the play very firmly in the high-drama/plot-twist/coincidence-fuelled school of Crime Thriller. Theatrical staging and grand monologues add to the sense of thriller tradition.
There are some tiny distractions – for example, one character is Welsh for no discernible reason (other than rather out-dated jokes about people from small towns), and her accent is inconsistent enough to detract from her performance at times.
The cast is full of instantly recognisable faces (even if you won’t always recognise all the names), and their experience shows. The script and the play-within-a-play-within-a-play structure provide plenty of self-aware moments, allowing the performers to mine the conventions of the format for laughs. They expertly build tension before using humour to break it, temporarily. As with all great mysteries, the pieces are all there, but most people won’t guess who the culprit is till the final denouement. A clever script, in capable hands, treads the perfect balance between the audience’s desire to solve the mystery and their joy at being led along for the ride.
Overall this is a diverting evening of entertainment, keeping us all on the edge of our seats, swept along on a fast-moving plot and a knowing script. I’ll be looking out for more from the same company.
Tickets cost from £13.90 to £38.40 (plus £2.85 transaction fee).
Rehearsal for Murder is at the Regent Theatre in Stoke until 20 February 2016. For more information or to book tickets click here or call the box office on 0844 871 7649
Regent Theatre, Piccadilly, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, ST1 1AP | 0844 871 7649