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Mortimer Dramatic Society - A Murder Has Been Arranged

25th to 26th May and 1st to 2nd June 2007.

From Newbury Theatre.

St James Theatre is closed at the start of Emlyn Williams’ play and the stage is to be used for a private party for Sir Charles Jasper and family. Sir Charles’s secretary, Miss Groze, is on edge, and there’s the sense that something spooky is going on. She and Mrs Wragg, the cook, think they have seen a ghost prowling the corridors.

It’s Sir Charles’s 40th birthday and he stands to inherit two million pounds if he’s still alive at 11pm. Jimmy North gatecrashes the party posing as a journalist, then Sir Charles’s nephew Maurice appears uninvited. Maurice will get the inheritance if Sir Charles doesn’t survive the evening; he is clearly a baddie, and as the play progresses it becomes clear just how bad he is.

I found the play, set in 1930, too long and too wordy, becoming increasingly implausible as it went on, and with an unsatisfactory denouement. But this was redeemed by some excellent performances from the cast. Jeanette Crisp, as the bossy secretary, stamped her authority on the production from the start, and the initial scene with Mrs Wragg (another strong performance from Cathy Ramsell) got the play off to a cracking start.

Chris Boott’s Sir Charles was in a world of his own, not really connecting with the rest of the family, and you could see how his young and rather neurotic wife Beatrice, played by Helen Sharpe, could be distracted by the attentions of Neil Johnson’s Jimmy North. But it was here that I have to disagree with director Megan Bush: North is constantly referred to as “young man”, and Neil Johnson is… well, not in the first flush of youth. This didn’t matter as far as the play was concerned, but surely the “young man” references could have been removed, or replaced with something more suitable?

Beatrice’s gold-digging mother Mrs Arthur got a feisty portrayal from Sarah Clarke, and there were cameo roles for Amy Kimber and Darryl Manners.

Tom Shorrock was a delight as Maurice, combining an easy charm with a calculating and ruthless determination. This was a mesmerising performance, and it’s a pity that his come-uppance was a weak point in the play.

OK, I didn’t like the play, but it’s worth making a trip to Mortimer to see some good acting and especially the powerful performances from Jeanette Crisp and Tom Shorrock.