Theatre Review: A murder mystery full of split ends

Scissor Happy Duchess Theatre, London

This new whodunnit play - adapted from the American hit Shear Madness - won't be a night devoted to Alan Shearer's ball skills, but it's content will be as unpredictable as the England match with Italy on Saturday.

Set in a Covent Garden hair salon, events leading up to a murder are witnessed, and the double twist in the tale comes as the audience play detective. The combination of audience heckling and free-wheeling acting makes Scissor Happy a cross between pantomime and improvisation.

"It is the interaction between audience and actors that makes this play completely different," says the producer, Ellis Elias. "The audience helps solve the murder by asking the detective and the suspects questions. At the end they vote on who the murderer is and then that ending is played out."

The play has been adapted by and stars comedy writers Neil Mullarkey, Lee Simpson and Jim Sweeney who have all improvised together as founder members of the Comedy Store Players and have become household names through Channel 4's Whose Line Is It Anyway? (based on the same impro-format as The Comedy Store). Neil Mullarkey, who was one half of a double act with "Austin Powers" Mike Myers and a founder member of The Comedy Store, directs alongside Lee Simpson.

The American original, Shear Madness was based on a serious murder-mystery called Scherenschnitt and was intended as a study of perception - once you know a murder has been committed what is your hindsight perception of apparently innocent acts? Shear Madness adapted this to the improvised format. As the audience decides who the murderer is, the principle that anyone could be innocent illustrates the same questions about perception as Scherenschnitt. Shear Madness was so successful that it is now in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest running non-musical in America.

It is not just the end(ings) of Scissor Happy which promise to bring together unlikely suspects - there is also a rare combination of builders, soap stars and pop music. It has been funded by builders, it is the producer's first venture into theatre after 20 years in the pop music business and Nicola Stapleton, aka Mandy in EastEnders plays the hairdresser.

There's no telling what's going to happen - but you can tell it's going to be funny.

Duchess Theatre, Catherine Street, London WC2B 5LA

Tickets: pounds 12.50-pounds 23.50

Box Office: 0171-494 5075

Jennifer Rodger

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