THEATRE / Catching them red-handed: Tristan Davies is mortally injured by Edward Taylor's Murder by Misadventure at the Vaudeville Theatre
Wednesday 15 July 1992
Paul Riggs and Harold Kent are partners in crime-writing. Riggs (William Gaunt) is the creative type (cardigan, beard, politics, all woolly); Kent (Gerald Harper) is the Gerald Harper type (blazer, chin, accent, all smoothie). Riggs has the ideas, Kent makes them work: which means that when Riggs suggests they should embark upon Murder by Misadventure, in which homicide is made to look like a bad case of the cold, it is up to Kent to work out precisely the circumstances in which a middle-aged man could die of hypothermia.
Kent (mid-forties) has done well from the partnership, as evidenced by his snazzy flat overlooking the Channel where the action takes place; but he wants to do better. To do so he must do without Riggs (mid-forties). And to do that, it becomes as clear as the glass sliding-doors opening on to his freezing cold, isolated balcony that he must do away with him. For Riggs, as dependent on a writing partner as he is on the bottle, threatens blackmail.
The rest is murder, as is clear with the arrival of a red folder containing a script sent in by a young hopeful (an actor). When Kent suggests him as a possible new partner, and Riggs picks up the folder and drops it like a heavy hint, his part later in the proceedings looks a dead cert. If the penny hasn't dropped by the end of Act 1, then it crashes down with interest at the start of Act 2 when a (young) inspector calls to investigate the inevitable disappearance of Riggs. If any crime has been committed here, then the real victims would seem to be Ira Levin or Anthony Shaffer, as anyone who has seen Deathtrap or Sleuth will testify.
Cluedo, the gameshow, should also receive a credit. The acting owes much to the Colonel- Mustard-with-the-candlestick variety, though without the excitement. To heighten the drama, Gerald Harper lowers and slows his already eccentrically mannered delivery to a Dalek-like drawl; woo-woo Dr Who-type music further adds to the effect. Mostly though, he resembles Nicholas Parsons, whose presence in the first night audience suggested he might leap from the stalls and play the identical- brother card. As the plot twists and turns in its death throes, anything was possible.
Only the Inspector has detected that a play so handcuffed by formula can only survive by self-parody, Greg Hicks reading his lines as though they were pinned to Bruce Forsyth's back on The Generation Game. For a moment it seemed as though Gerald Harper had caught on. Put under pressure by Hick's a-likely-tale- sir line of questioning, he reaches for the back of his trousers as if in imminent danger of losing them. It's a shame he doesn't drop them, since Murder by Misadventure is in need of a lot more Cooney and a lot less Christie. The real mystery of this risible whodunnit is how it made it this far without getting caught.
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