Review by Devan Marr
Comedy, Puppetry, Solo | 75 Minutes
Who Killed Gertrude Crump is a one woman/10 puppet show. It also came with a disclaimer. Opening night was the first time this play was being seen in its entirety by anyone, ever. Sure enough, there were a few hiccups along the way, but overall it is a fun, enjoyable bit of theatre you probably won’t see anywhere else. Before this review begins in earnest, I have to say I was astounded that Tara Travis managed to keep all the puppets’ accents straight. It was really remarkable and the show is worth checking out for her talent alone.
The story is a classic turn of the century murder mystery set in a spooky guest house only reachable by boat. The story is told by Tara Travis portraying the narrator, Agatha Christie. In turn, Agatha Christie then takes control of 10 puppets to bring the audience the story of her unpublished first mystery novel.
The Monkswell guest house is the setting for this piece, a massive prop that is placed centre stage. There, the cast of guests, and future suspects, assemble for a special evening. They are joined by Gertrude Crump, an author famous for her mystery novels. Unfortunately, true to the show’s title, the poor woman winds up dead at her vanity, a bullet wound in her back. So the question is, who dun it? Was it the Scottish governess? The Frenchman? The ageing Colonel? His trophy wife? Perhaps, the unsuspecting hosts? The story follows plot twists twists, grand revelations, and even a secret passage to deliver the answer in a fun, endearing production.
The puppets themselves are detailed, well done, and help the audience get a feel for the character they represent. The puppets are also essentially artistic bobbleheads, so Travis brings the characters to life with quirky accents and her own fourth wall defying antics. In a word, it was simply impressive. Not only did she have to keep all the accents and lines straight, she also had to make sure the puppets kept moving. Who Killed Gertrude Crump was a real treat.
As said, the play takes place in a giant mock up of the Monkswell guest house. Through magnets and interchangeable bedroom sets, the play makes the most of the static setting. A fireplace, closet, and painting are all it takes to change a bedroom to a front hall, and a front hall to another bedroom. It’s simple but effective.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the production, it did feel like it ran a little long. It’s billed as a 60 minute show, but lasted around 75. This was likely the result of a few technical difficulties, the disclaimer, and some first night issues. I suspect they will be ironed out by the next showing. It probably could also have done with one less “sudden twist” to bring it squarely under 60 minutes, but that’s just a personal choice.
Also, despite Travis’ excellent handling of the puppetry, I feel like there was just too much going on for one person to truly do smoothly. An unexpected unveiling, delayed scene change, and spontaneous decapitation were a few of the issues that cropped up in this run. Finally, the end of the play felt a little bit frantic. Despite this, Travis was unflappable. Every unexpected issue was met with an infectious smile and a witty quip. If anything, I found the mix ups made the whole thing more entertaining.
Who Killed Gertrude Crump, is Fringe at its finest: unique, intriguing, and outside the box. Where else are you going to find a puppet murder mystery narrated by Agatha Christie? If you don’t go see it, you’ll never find who out the real murderer is, as we’ve all been sworn to secrecy. So go see this show and find out, who killed Gertrude Crump?
Who Killed Gertrude Crump is playing at Venue 1- Arts Court Theatre. The next show times are: Saturday, June 21, at 21:30, Sunday, June 22, at 13:00, Tuesday, June 24, at 18:00, Thursday, June 26, at 20:00, and Saturday, June 28, at 19:00.