Lichfield Garrick Studio Theatre – Tuesday 11 December 2018
By Features Writer, Jono Oates
Christmas is always a great time to catch-up with old friends and so it was very appropriate that The New Old Friends production company have come back to the Lichfield Garrick this year with their latest offering ‘Crimes of the Christmas Pudding’. This is their third festive offering in Lichfield, following on from ‘Crimes Against Christmas’ in 2016 and ‘Crimes on the Christmas Express’ in 2017 and the Garrick audiences are definitely third-time lucky this Christmas with this wacky, zany and very funny performance!
The plays are all a pastiche of typical Agatha Christie style plots with lots of twists-and-turns, bizarre mysterious murders and a whole host of potential suspects, many of whom are quite completely bonkers!
We all know the famous detective Hercule Poirot, one of Christie’s most famous creations, but this time it’s a female Belgian detective, Artemis Arinae, who is brought in to discover the whereabouts of a missing diamond ring. The ring, the property of the Russian Prince Milanov, went missing at an earlier event at the stately home of the Lorde family and the prince hires Miss Arinae to help discover its whereabouts.
Artemis has to use of all her (female) little grey cells to work out who may have stolen the ring and why. The list of suspects includes her hosts the Lordes, their next door neighbours Jerry and Margot Watt (their forenames a nice ‘nod’ to the BBC comedy The Good Life), Lady Lorde’s cousins Sebastian and Verona Viola and the house staff Herr Schmitt the Chef, Molly the Maid and, as in any Christie murder mystery, an essential figure – the butler! Also thrown into the mix are the Lorde’s children, Oliver and Isabella, and the Watt’s son Walt.
As the Belgian sleuth interrogates the extensive list of suspects a diabolical murder takes place in the snowy grounds of the stately home. Is the murder linked to the missing diamond? Who is the murderer? Will Artemis be able to uncover the murderer and return the missing diamond to its rightful owner? As the body count increases the Belgian detective needs every one of those little grey cells to unravel the mystery.
The extensive list of characters in this play is made all the more remarkable that all of them are played by just four actors. Jill Myers plays the detective Artemis but the other three actors: Steven Rostance, Laura Crowhurst and Oliver Malam play the other 12 characters between them. This means that there is plenty of costume, wigs and accent changes throughout, with the three multi-role actors racing off stage to change into their alter egos or diving under the stage sets to reappear seconds later as a totally different character, which is all great fun.
There are some fantastic tongue-twisting monologues, all the more impressive when you think that the actors not only have to remember their lines but also remember which of their characters they are performing the lines as.
The set is mainly constructed of two small, matching staircases which are separated, brought together, twirled round and reversed to create a variety of features and structures of the stately home, as well as being used to reprsent an aeroplane and train carriage, all very easily and simply done but very effective. The cast also use very simple household items to create the snowy diorama of the grounds of the stately home, it’s ingenious and funny at the same time.
The bedroom scene is extremely funny and with some very clever, and intriguing, placement of the stage and the cast, it got the biggest laugh of the night and is well worth looking out for. The fights between two characters played by the same actor are also great fun and there is a definite resemblance to the great Tommy Cooper with the ‘half-and-half’ costumes as the actors reverse around the stage.
The comedy is quite adult with some double-entendres and strong language, it has a 14+ age limit guidance but young adults will find the slapstick elements and quick-fire gags to be very entertaining. There are some great topical gags as well including ‘the-joke-that-keeps-on-giving’ Brexit reference. The actors all clearly enjoy themselves with the interplaying of their various characters and the confusion that arises from the fact that the character that is due to appear next to them on stage is also played by themselves – and they can’t be in two places at the same time!
The play runs at a fantastic pace and there isn’t a dull moment, it is typical madcap fun with a plot that has its tongue firmly set in its cheek and a cast that are enthusiastic and effervescent.
The four-hand cast are all excellent, Jill Myers plays Artemis Ariane with a convincing accent and is a constant single character who helps interact with the other characters as they fly on and off stage. Steven Rostance plays the tall and dashing Prince, pompous Lord Lorde and his nice-but-dim son Oliver, lower-class neighbour Jerry and Chef Herr Schmitt and is versatile and commanding. Oliver Malam is engaging as the bullied and put-upon young Walt Watt, smooth and smarmy as Sebastian, hilariously cross-dressing as his sister Viola and very funny as the butler. We all know the term ‘The Butler Did It…’ and his character enjoys exploiting this to the maximum, with his paranoiac insistence that it doesn’t really matter who ‘dunnit’ the butler will always get the blame. Laura Crowhurst is fantastic as all her characters, the sultry, sexy Lady Lorde, her pig-tail wearing daughter Isabella, the mad-as-a-box-of-birds Margot Watt with her drunken slurrings and finally the homely house maid Molly. Entirely watchable throughout her comic timing is impeccable and she is spot-on with the interpretation of every one of her varied characters, a real delight and very, very funny.
The script, by company founder Feargus Woods Dunlop, is as sharp as the previous productions and the direction, by Nel Crouch, is superb especially when you consider the amount of multiple actor interchange and scene changes. Music and sound direction is by Dave Culling, who is also responsible for the music direction of the panto in the main theatre, Dick Whittington.
Tis the season to be merry and enjoy a helping of Christmas Pudding and this particular pudding is fruity, moist, spicy, full of goodness and stuffed with silver sixpences – it is definitely worth calling in to the Garrick Studio Theatre this Christmas and sampling its flavours and delights!
Crimes of the Christmas Pudding is on at the Garrick Studio Theatre until Saturday 5 January 2019 with tickets priced from £20, you can book tickets online at:
by ringing 01543 412121 or visiting the Box Office during usual opening times at Castle Dyke, Wade Street, Lichfield.
Photo: Pamela Raith Photography