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Genesian Theatre: Let's Kill Agatha Christie - Review by Faith Jessel

Who will "do it"? Will it be the bombastic Sir Frederick in the Yellow Room with the bedsheet, or the muddleheaded Mr Miles in the Blue Room with the mouse poison? Perhaps the facetious Miss Field in The Orange Room with her formidable blunderbuss? Prepare yourself for an evening of murderous merriment, pun-filled puzzles, and side splitting satire as director Gregory George at the Genesian Theatre presents a splendidly spoofy salute to the queen of crime in 'Let's Kill Agatha Christie.'

This seemingly classic murder mystery and the familiar premise of 'Strangers summoned to a remote drawing room within a mysterious mansion to be blackmailed,' undergoes a wry deconstruction, alongside an affectionate tribute to archetypal characters. As the plot unfolds, we are treated to a plethora of comical twists and turns, thanks to playwright Anthony Hind sending up this much-loved genre and its narrative conventions while cleverly breaking his own rules. Every character has their hilarious moments.

From her opening scene, we just know the lady of the manor, Prudence Sykes (Caitlyn Clancy), is bad news. A deluded and highly unsuccessful crime writer of 28 murder mystery novels (27 published), she deliciously struts, poses, and preens her way across the almost overwhelming uniformity of the 'Grey Room' stage setting (also crafted by the director), carrying a significant chip on the elegantly draped shoulder of her evening gown. NEVER say her competitor's name! Accompanied by her loyal secretary, (Denise Kitching), Clancy adeptly balances upper-class conceit, suspicions of villainy, and victimhood, while Kitching provides balance and unyielding calmness in the wake of her mistress's increasingly diva-like theatrics.

With a mischievous nod to the rules of Cluedo, the three clueless guests of the manor house, each potentially a victim or perpetrator, make their entrance, relishing their characters' fabulous flaws and foibles. The fittingly titled Sir Frederick Belting (Theo Hatzistergos) dominates the stage with his larger-than-life presence and expressive eyebrows. Hatzistergos blusters and scowls in exasperation throughout the evening, swaggering around the room with an aura of entitlement, desperately trying to regain his sorely lost equilibrium before eventually succumbing to the confusing shenanigans.

Bryan Smith, portraying Miles, presents an intriguing blend of character traits; a down-and-out, ageing actor with hints of the 'Cowardly Lion', who is always one step behind eight ball. Two very funny comedic moments of his performance included a spectacular explosion of rodenticide dust that permanently adorned his glasses, as well as a wonderfully awkward and absurd cross-dressing scene, complete with a falsetto voice.

All hope would be lost if it weren't for the level-headed and determined newspaper reporter and aspiring poet, Marjory Field (Natalie Reid). We thoroughly enjoy Reid's skilled portrayal and finely tuned ability to navigate the subtleties of understated comedy. She embodies the cerebral 'Straight Man' with a blend of incredulous disbelief and cool condemnation amidst the escalating nonsense.

The long-suffering house staff, Tombs and Gladys (Peter J. Donnelly and Andrea Blight) tag team throughout the night to consistently steal the limelight. At times, they radiate a vibe that evokes a seasoned essence of "Riff Raff and Magenta" from 'The Rocky Horror Show'. Donnelly's deadpan, sardonic face and line delivery, punctuated by rounded vowels and snappy curtain choreography, contrasted brilliantly with Blight's fabulous rough-around-the-edges ‘Oh Gawd’ charwoman charm, both showcasing the terrific tongue-in-cheek comic timing required in a spoof, as the capers spiral rapidly out of control.

After the necessary plot and character exposition, the pace picked up significantly with the introduction of Harry Lewis as the baby-faced and adorably klutzy Police Constable Croche (who is eagerly awaiting his first arrest), alongside the cunning yet oddly fumbling Inspector Murray, brought to life with verve by Brendan Layton. Their inquiries spark a frenzied flurry of concealed weapons, unreliable allies, and of course, a missing body.

The stage is now set for uproarious physical comedy and inevitable red herrings, elevated by Michael Schell's marvellously kitschy murder melodies and atmospheric lighting design, along with Susan Carveth’s lovely 1940s period costumes. As expected in any murder mystery, the ending was perfectly pitched and completely unexpected.

Agatha Christie enthusiasts will thoroughly enjoy this production. Others will delight in its playful parody. Most of the joy is found in surrendering to the ludicrousness of this loving homage. Make sure to partake in a round of ‘Murder Mystery Tropes Bingo’ provided in the program, not only for the fun but also for gaining a deeper appreciation of this genre's complexity and cleverness beyond its surface. But whatever you do - Do NOT drink the Ovaltine!

'Let's Kill Agatha Christie' plays at The Genesian Theatre until July 27th. Join in the laughter while taking the opportunity to fondly bid farewell to the Genesian's exquisite historical venue on Kent Street before the company relocates to their new location and facilities in St Joseph's Hall, Rozelle by the year's end. 

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