theatre Blue Murder Theatre Royal, Plymouth

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The Independent Culture
In successive plays, Peter Nichols has strived to pull away the veils to expose naked reality. In Blue Murder, he tries to show the theatre mechanics of play-writing, acting and production as confidence tricks that get in the way of real life. He rails against the three-wall room, the economics that decide the size of the cast, the sets that are mere artifice. The actors step out of their roles and comment on the script.

In Blue Murder, nobody is what they seem. Edwin, the silly old buffer, is a secret paederast. Isobel, the silly ingenue actress, is a call-girl and masochist, who services jolly old Uncle Lionel for pounds 25 a time.

Blue Murder is set in the Sixties and uses the Profumo scandal as a starting point. Reality is represented by the scurvy Bernie, a pimp with an armlock on Isobel. Edwin's wife, Hester, tries to behave as though everything is politely up to scratch, while her son, Colin, an actor, berates her for ignoring the obvious.

The cast start to miscue. The piano plays before the player is seated. Telephone and doorbells make false entrances like a Farndale Ladies' spoof of amateur dramatics. Eventually, the invisible wall separating the rooms is ignored. This is a play, after all. We all know that, don't we? This is all in the first act.

In the second half, we move to the office of the Lord Chamberlain, in his last year of activity. Two purblind officials are interviewing a playwright and censoring his play. Early on everyone is compromised. A guardsman parading outside is the paramour of one of the officials. The secretary is free and easy.

Attention is drawn to the set, and one of the characters says: "This is all over, all this. There are thousands of plays written by people who are dead and do not attend rehearsals." The character with these lines then walks off stage.

The illusion and reality theme will not wash as it is full of holes. It is used here as a device of farce, and yet farce is never funnier than when it is played in earnest. When we enter a theatre we know we are willingly submitting to an imaginary world. Do we need to be told this? For what purpose?

Blue Murder is, in fact, two one-act plays that are scarcely linked. Much of the script is sketch material, and, as such, can be very funny. Sexual innuendo (of the Sixties era) flows freely.

In this production, directed by the writer, some well-known actors co- operate to their disadvantage. Barry Foster, Nichola Mc- Auliffe, Anton Rodgers, Ian Riddington, Matthew Lloyd Davies, Ysobel Gonzalez and Andrew Harrison contribute comic cameos. The audience enjoyed all the undersmut.

n `Blue Murder' is at the Richmond Theatre today until Sat, at 7.45pm (booking: 0181-940 0088); then its tour continues to Newcastle (30 Sept), Sheffield (7 Oct), Cardiff (14 Oct), Woking (21 Oct), Norwich (28 Oct)

ALLEN SADDLER

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