Mr. Bean meets Clue in The Murder Room, a thoroughly silly send-up of the British murder mystery now playing at the Ottawa Little Theatre through to January 30.
Any night of theatre asks the audience to bring the believer in them, a readiness to entertain a greater range of possibilities than we do in everyday life. When it’s farce onstage this is magnified maybe ten times. Goofy humour takes a little priming but if you can come out in a good mood The Murder Room will have you laughing out loud. It’s got all the funny you could ask for – a little slapstick, some ping pong style patter, lots of crossed wires and a bunch of hilariously harebrained characters mindlessly cheery in the midst of a murder investigation.
Directing Jack Sharkey’s hidden gem of a script with a sure and steady hand is Geoff Gruson, an Ottawa theatre veteran who’s trod the boards at the OLT for over 35 years. The Murder Room takes us to 1970s England where our villain Mavis murders her husband of less than a day, Edgar with help from her secret lover. All she has to do is survive the investigation and she can cash in or so she thinks. Throw in the housekeeper, two cops who aren’t what they seem and Edgar’s daughter in from America with a wealthy fiancée in tow and everything’s in place to solve the whodunit.
We in the audience are let in on the murder and all its goofy – rather than gory – details so there’s also fun in knowing the answers as we watch the ditzy bunch struggling to sort everything out. The premise of nearly every scene is cartoon wacky. Take for example the bit where Mavis, the cheating wife refuses to admit she’s been found out even after her husband has tracked her to the door of her lover’s apartment. Somehow her increasingly ridiculous story of an elderly woman whose knees pop like champagne corks convinces him.
Michael McSheffrey brings a charming roguishness as Edgar Hollister and maybe another character too, though I can’t confirm as much, lest I spoil anything for you. Irish O’Brien does a nice turn as conniving gold digger Mavis Templeton, playing the role fast and loud leaving little room for anyone to doubt her. Plus she really nails the wicked laugh. Kelly Fuoco is both childlike in her innocence and fiercely loyal as the housekeeper Lottie Molloy. Michael McCarville gives us a bumbling Inspector James Crandell playing both sides of the law. Maryse Fernandes brings a nice spark of intensity to her role as Edgar’s vacuous daughter Susan while Phillip Merriman rounds out the cast as Susan’s fiancée, Barry, the affable clown.
From McSheffrey’s upper-crust crispness to Merriman’s Texas drawl the accents in this production are quite solid, never distracting from the humour at hand. Kudos also to set designer Paul Gardner and the whole technical crew for pulling off an animated set full of booby traps, trap doors, and other surprises.
Though there were a few line slips opening night all’s forgiven in light of the cast’s overall fine timing which makes the production. This is one script with no room for loose timing. The action also got a touch sluggish just before the intermission the night I went but luckily the pace picked right back up for the second half before careening towards the finale.
The Murder Room is quite simply a fun night of theatre that will remind you how good it feels to just let go and laugh at something completely ridiculous.