‘Curtain up on Murder’

‘Curtain up on Murder’ was written by Bettine Manktelow in 1997. Manktelow, who has lived for years in Kent in SE England, has written around 30 crime / comedies. This wonderful production is being presented by the Ellenbrook Theatre Company at the Civic Centre, (next to the library), 100 Main Street, Ellenbrook.

There are only five shows and so the season finishes with a matinee only, on Sunday 20th July. The performances, which are suitable for young teenagers, are 105-minutes long and start at the EARLIER TIME of 7.00 pm.

The scene is the stage of the Paignton Pier Theatre in Devon. It is set up for the rehearsals of a drama being staged by The Torbay Theatre Company.

The set is that of the amateur theatre group being represented. There is a back flat of a brick wall painted with French windows. At the side are flats depicting theatre boxes. There are a couple of chairs, a prop box and a sofa.

        A young, rather haughty actress, Sandra (Cecilia Allen) has brought along a frumpy, very nervous and shy friend, Ginny (Hayley Derwort) dressed in twinset and tweeds. Ginny is hoping that being part of the theatrical group as a stage helper, may bring her out of her shell. As they are waiting for the rest of the cast, a Somerset fisherman, Harry (Richard Hadler) who helps as the theatre caretaker, tells them that he is locking up the front of house and that the cast must leave by the back door.

       Whilst Sandra takes Ginny on a tour of backstage, young hormone-charged, Alex (Joshua Ericson) arrives with voluptuous Sylvia (Kira Pearce). The fact that she is the wife of the self-important, cravat-wearing director, Martin (Andrew Hemstock) does not seem to cramp Alex’s style. As Alex and Sylvia embrace, Martin arrives with an old dear, Moppet (Lyndsey Turner) who has trouble with remembering her lines. Martin does not seem to be too upset by the caress, but Linda (Chantelle Pitt) who shares a flat with Alex definitely is.

       Before long, one actor dies by falling through the stage trapdoor. An accident perhaps, but when another member dies soon after, the remaining troupe are petrified in case they are next.

The director, Harry MacLennan and his assistant Ryan Marano have done a magnificent job. The pace is perfect, the actors move around – in crime dramas especially, the cast invariably are glued to the floor for each scene – every character of the play had a very different persona.

The play is very well structured, and the playwright’s dialogue superb, just the right amount of humour and a few clues being dropped, along with a shoal of red herrings.

Jan Oliver and Nicola Stewart’s costumes were wonderful; a great deal of thought has gone into the personalities wearing them. Sylvia Guest and Nicola Stewart created the makeup and hair creations. With no curtain, a few scenes relied upon good stage management (Ian Howard, helped by Joanne Neesham) and careful teching (lights and sound by Mark Turnbull) so that the odd surprise is not spoilt.

This is a well-written, piece of fun and suspense, presented by a friendly team and talented cast. Try to catch it.