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Touring Theatre to the East of England and beyond

03-Dec-2012

DIAL M FOR MURGATROYD: East Anglian Daily Times

The body count is high but nowhere near as high as the innuendo tally.

A couple of lines into Eastern Angles' annual Christmas romp, the audience is laughing. It sets the mood for an evening which taps the rich vein of comic insanity we have come to know and love as the stamp of a writing team Julian Harries and Pat Whymark, and they also direct this madcap variation on a well-loved theme.

Along with the theatrical anarchy of five people taking on 20 roles, this is a rollicking good whodunnit with great music.

Honestly? By the end, my face was aching from variously smiling, chuckling and laughing out loud as I watched this fabulous concoction of silliness, loosely based on an Agatha Christie Miss Marple story.

Miss Jane Murgatroyd is called to the village of by her friend Violet Fitzall (yes, I know...) when the Essex-branded Fitzall butlers (Barking, Braintree etc) start dropping like flies, in one case, literally.

But are they the intended victims? No, probably not.

And what exactly is going on with Fitzall and his not-very-macho son Fenton down in the cellar?

And is gung-ho, trigger-happy big game hunter Georgina, the Fitzall daughter, harbouring murderous intentions because of her arranged marriage to a local rubber baron?

And does the rubber reference prompt any ghastly puns? What do you think?

Meanwhile, what's happened to Georgina's gorilla?

There are also a number of suspicious types lurking around the village and Inspector Jessop and Miss Murgatroyd are quickly on the case. Who will identify the murderer? Does it matter?

There is also the small, or rather, large matter of who will produce the biggest marrow for the Great Clumping horticultural show.

These and many other questions will be answered in full in an hilarious evening of glorious fun.

As well as co-writing and directing, Julian Harries' triple whammy is completed by also being in the cast. As the inspector and Clive Fitzall his inner loveable scamp shines through a delicious performance of thinly veiled bonkersness.

Perhaps the most hilarious moment of the show is provided by the consummate Patrick Marlowe who, with seven roles to juggle, plays a two-handed scene solo... including costume and accent changes.

The show boasts a strong and multi-talented ensemble with Emma Finlay, as Violet and (very) Mad Meg, Deborah Hewitt as Georgina and the enigmatic Rose Early, and Samuel Martin as Fenton plus four are tremendous. Musicians, singers and nice movers all.

The set is tremendously effective with an acting area used to great effect, especially in the delightful "spilt-screen" action. The props are inventive, Pat Whymark's music is terrific and the whole production moves on at a hugely enjoyable lick.

Like all the best Christmas crackers this explosively funny show has novelties, gags and hats (well, wigs anyway).

LYNNE MORTIMER

03-Dec-2012

DIAL M FOR MURGATROYD: thepublicreviews.com

Amateur sleuth Miss Murgatroyd is summoned from her quiet Little Inkling village to the Fitzall family seat at Great Clumping - we're in Agatha Christie territory for this country house murder mystery, the 25th Christmas show for Eastern Angles, and the 13th created by the matchless team of Julian Harries and Pat Whymark.

They'll do seventy-six shows over the next couple of months, in Woodbridge and Peterborough as well as their home at the Sir John Mills.

Dial M for Murgatroyd is two hours of madcap fun, with songs, dance and just a little audience participation. As usual, a virtue is made of the necessity of doing much with little - the economy is often the joke: doubling actors suddenly leave the stage, and in one priceless sequence, exchange dialogue as both Murgatroyd and the Scottish rubber baron Sir Gerald Bartrum. This is the amazingly versatile Patrick Marlowe, who also gives us the lusty butcher Mr Prickett, the strange Sergeant Ramirez, a girl guide, a tramp in the woods and Braintree, the butler. The scenery and props are similarly minimal: a tiny library, a minuscule butcher's shop, a handlebar bicycle, a dashboard car and a Morrison's trolley aeroplane all have their part to play.

The gratuitous, surreal and silly wing-walking number is a high point, particularly the clever "Agree to Differ" duet, and the Village chorus that opens and closes the show: "the butcher, the baker, the grim undertaker" ...

Harries himself plays the piano accordeon, the slightly soft-headed Fitzall, the alliterative Bertie Blue from the Butler Bureau, and the plodding Inspector Jessop. Lady Violet Fitzall, whose letter brings Miss M to the crime scene, is played by Emma Finlay, who also goes deliciously over the top as the mysterious Mad Meg.

Georgina, the Fitzall daughter, adventuress and prime suspect, is Deborah Hewitt, and another newcomer, Samuel Martin, plays the librarian, butlers Barking and Wivenhoe, the fey Fenton Fitzall and a mean fiddle.

Yes, there are Essex jokes, Ipswich jokes, plenty of puns and sneaky smut, owls and sheep, marrow double entendres, cross talk routines, echoes of Blackadder, Round the Horne and even panto, all delivered with wild-eyed relish, irrepressible energy and a mischievous sense of fun.

It's the plum pudding to the panto's turkey and trimmings: no big names or big egos, no glitter or glamour, just five brilliantly funny performers and a technical team keeping the whole show on the rails.

Michael Gray

 

03-Dec-2012

DIAL M FOR MURGATROYD: Grapevine Magazine

There is definitely a move away from what has become known as the traditional Christmas pantomime towards what might be called a Christmas show and in this, as in much, Eastern Angles has led the way.  Indeed the Eastern Angles Christmas Show has become a traditional part of many people's Christmas over the years and I know several people who book immediately the tickets go on sale in order to guarantee seeing it on exactly the same night every year.  Well this year their prompt action is going to be well rewarded as, Dial M for Murgatroyd , written by Julian Harries and Pat Whymark, is a real treat.

The Fitzall family's butlers keep meeting with grizzly ends but are they the real targets or just the innocent victims of a hapless killer?  It matters not really for the plot plays second fiddle to the fun which cracks on from the moment the actors take to the stage.  As always the script has more double-entendres than a conversation between Sid James and Ronnie Barker at a rock eating competition and the character and place names are a chortle-fest of ridiculousness.  This means that Dial M feels more like an end-of-the-pier variety show than panto but that, for me, is a good thing.

It's vital in these productions that the cast convey the sense that they are enjoying the daftness and this bunch certainly did that.  Julian Harries delivers some top class silliness and Emma Finlay, Deborah Hewitt and Samuel Martin all contribute much to the mirth and merriment but if there is a stand out daft laugh then it probably belongs to Patrick Marlowe and  the conversation he has between two of the characters he plays, Mrs Murgatroyd and Sir Gerald Bartrum, which features diminishing dialogue and quickening costume changes.

There should also be applause for the oft overlooked stage management, in this case EA stalwart Penny Griffin, as all the technical visual gags arrived exactly on queue.

Pat Whymark's songs provided, as always, a lot of laughs but, and this is my one complaint of Dial M, there could have been more if both sides of the auditorium (Dial M is performed in traverse) had been able to hear what the actors were singing.  It was not a problem with diction but volume; when an actor turned to the audience opposite it was very difficult to hear them clearly.  That was a shame as the lyrics of Pat Whymark's songs are comedy gems and it seems a pity to waste them.

However that did not detract from what was a cracking night out at the John Mills Theatre and if you're happy to swap a few 'behind yous' for a lot of laughs then Dial M should be on your Christmas list this season.

03-Dec-2012

DIAL M FOR MURGATROYD:Ipswich24 Magazine

The Eastern Angles Christmas show has over the past 25 years become as much a Christmas tradition as the panto, mincepies and crackers.

It's always an opportunity for this talented little company to let it's hair down and indulge in some comedy. This year's offering comes from collaborative pens of Julian Harries and Pat Whymark and is a murder mystery in the Miss Marple mould. However there's a comedic twist, if Agetha Christie had done comedy she would have done it just like this!

There's a wild beast on the loose in the woods around the village, the hotly contested annual horticultural show is looming but the impossibly posh Fitzall family have more pressing things on their minds.

The family seem to be getting through butlers at an alarming rate with another bumped off everytime they turn their backs. There's in fighting and rivalry within the family and plenty of places to point the finger of suspicion, but just ‘who did it'?

Call Miss Murgatroyd who surely will unravel it all?

The cast of five are superb and multi-talented taking on twenty characters between them and not once getting confused, even when it includes lightning on-stage costume and character changes that are worth the ticket money alone.

Julian Harries in addition to being co-writer takes on a variety of roles, mostly notably the slightly mad-scientist like Clive Fitzall as well as a confused police inspector, Harries is a terrific comedy actor.

A newcomer to the Angles stage is Emma Finlay who plays Violet Fitzall as well as Mad Meg, hopefully she will be returning to the company for future productions.

Dial M for Murgatroyd is set in the 1940s and also features many of the characters typically seen in movies of the period, a gung-hoo daughter Georgina Fitzall (played by Deborah Hewitt) who would rather shoot and bag a tiger than a husband, much to her mother's disappointment. Georgina's brother Fenton (Samuel Martin) has always been a disappointment to his father and resents his father's attempts to make him man up.

Patrick Marlowe manages to take on the roles of seven of the cast but most notably Miss Murgatroyd as well as Sir Gerald Bartrum, it is Murgatroyd's interrogation of Bartrum that provides for one of the most memorable performances in the play which is simply outstanding.

Add in a few more dead bodies, twists and turns aplenty, and some of Pat Whymark's witty songs and you have what has to be one of the best pieces of original drama that I have seen this year.

Mark Keable

01-Dec-2012

DIAM FOR MURGATROYD: WhatsOnStage.com

If the thought of yet another pantomime fills you with horror, then the seasonal frolic which makes up Eastern Angles' Christmas entertainment is the one for you. This year Julian Harries and Pat Whymark suggest that we Dial M for Murgatroyd. This eponymous character is a "sweet" old lady, not a million miles removed from a certain Miss Marple. She's summoned to a country village (one presumes in Suffolk) by her old school-friend Violet Fitzall.

Violet has a problem. Well, several of them in fact. One is her husband and lord of the local manor Clive. Two others are her huntin' shootin' fishin' daughter Georgina and her languidly effete son Fenton. The plot thickens and general mayhem ensues when one Mad Meg, assorted tramps, village people of differing degrees of probity, Georgina's unwelcome suitor and a Scotland Yard detective come onto the scene and into the fast and furious action.

Designer Richard Evans has thought up an array of quick-change costumes and highly portable scene-setting props for the hard-working, hard-playing cast. Patrick Marlowe flips in and out of seven different characters (of both sexes) sometimes playing two or three in the same scene. Harries has written himself two major roles - Clive Fitzall and Inspector Jessop - but leaves plenty of juicy moments for Samuel Martin, including a brace of hapless butlers and the airy-fairy Fenton.

Emma Harley is the gun-toting, heavy fisted Georgina and the lissome Rose Early. Deborah Hewitt doubles Violet and the sinister cauldron-stirring Meg (anyone for an eye of newt and toe of frog supper after the show?). All five play various instruments, sing and dance to one of Whymark's delicately send-up pastiche scores. Hilarious.

Anne Morley Priestman

 

05-Dec-2012

DIAL M FOR MURGATROYD: Glen's Theatre Blog

The whodunit is a theatrical staple. Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap has recently celebrated its 250,000th performance over 60 years in the West End but in Eastern Angles marvelous mad murder mystery the genre has been given an anarchic makeover.

The traditional ‘whodunit' cry of ‘the butler did it' doesn't last long here as the menservants of Fitzall Hall tend to have an unfortunate habit of ending up murdered. Braintree, Barking and Wivenhoe all come to a sticky end in quick succession leading to the conclusion that a murderer may be on the prowl.

As is Eastern Angles festive custom, tongue remains firmly in cheek as Julian Harries and Pat Whymark's script firmly lampoons the crime thriller. It's all done in an affectionate way, though, with plenty of lovingly crafted references that fans of Poirot, Marple et al will revel in spotting.

When the body count threatens to rival that of Midsummer Murders, the Fitzalls decide to call in help. Queue the arrival of amateur sleuth, the deceptively masculine Miss Jane Murgatroyd and local police Inspector Jessop. Is the killer targeting butlers or is there another target? What happened to gun-toting Georgina's monkey? What is Colonel Sir Clive Fitzall and his son, Fenton, doing in the cellar and can the family solve the problem before they run out of Essex named butlers?

Much fun is made of the small cast with some cleverly observed costume and character swapping allowing for some lightning-fast doubling. As ever with Eastern Angles clever use is made from the limited stage space, with simple props being used to ingenious effect.

There's not a weak link in the company, all of who revel in their slightly bonkers creations. Patrick Marlowe's butch Miss Murgatroyd, Samuel Martin's camp as a row of tents Fenton, Deborah Hewitt's ‘shoot it if it moves' Georgina, and Emma Finlay's insane Mad Meg all gloriously over the top characters. Harries himself completes a hat trick of writing, directing and performing the dual roles of Fitzall and the bumbling Inspector Jessop.

Co-Director Wymark's music provides plenty of comic potential, whether it's a comic ape chase scene or an accompaniment to a barnstorming wing walking routine, never let it be said that Easter Angles Christmas shows are not inventive.

It may look and feel different from your traditional festive offering but for laughs per line it would be hard to beat. Where else can you sit and suddenly find a giant monkey sitting on your knee? Judging by the enthusiastic audience response, one suspects the phone lines to the Dial M For Murgatroyd Box Office will be red hot.

Glen Pearce

23-Dec-2012

Dial M for Murgatroyd, THE OBSERVER

The spoof to beat all spoofs this year has to be Eastern Angles' production of Dial M for Murgatroyd. This is the 13th Christmas show by writing/directing team Julian Harries (who also performs) and Pat Whymark. It's an eclectic mixture of humours, from sight gags to absurdities, prat falls and clowning, as well as puns, gorilla costumes and doubling (or, in one case, septupling) parts. A country house murder mystery, it combines a plot worthy of Agatha Christie, dialogue almost as good as PG Wodehouse and action as absurd as Monty Python. If ever American tourists return in numbers to asset-stripped Britain, this would make a great West End attraction.

Clare Brennan

09-Jan-2013

THE TIMES

Four Stars

Reviewed by Libby Purves

The village of Great Clumping is in uproar. Lady Fitzall, frustrated squire’s wife and object of desire for Mr Prickett the butcher, is warring with her husband over the fruit and produce show. Their white-hunter daughter is back from the Congo with a captive gorilla, and refuses to marry Sir Gerald Bartrum the rubber tycoon — “Business is stretched, but we bounce back”. Their son Fenton (yes, that joke too) is worryingly effete, and something sinister is brewing in a secret laboratory. Mad Meg the witch is stirring a cauldron of puppet frogs and two butlers, Barking and Braintree, meet mysterious deaths.

We are in a spoof 1950s mystery, signalled on our entrance by the Music While You Work theme. Miss Murgatroyd must outdo the blundering Inspector Jessop. Billed as an “alternative to the traditional Christmas panto”, this new satire with music was written by Julian Harries and Pat Whymark, whose Dick Turpin I so loved. The playwrights have created a blissful cross between a Round the Horne parody of The Mousetrap and a proper old-fashioned revue. As well as playing piano, drums, fiddle, spoons and accordion the five actors play 20 characters, handling between two and seven each. As we get familiar with the doubling this involves some fine in-jokes, panicky wig-changing and noises off (a manly butcher dashes onstage with Miss M’s huge bust still beneath his apron). Harries and Whymark also have a nice way with props, bringing on enough to indicate a bicycle, car, aircraft and a set of cellar steps, created with a sloping banister and some painful knee-bends.

The tight writing and sheer discipline shine. The jokes are nicely Fifties with traditional butts such as a wimp, a Scotsman and Ramirez the ardent Latino sergeant. There is some fine Kenneth Hornery: “Think of the position a man like Sir Gerald will place you in!” pleads the father, to which his daughter replies: “That’s what I’m afraid of.” Boom boom!

They use the audience as scenery, including a forest: “All these gnarled and wizened old stumps — one can almost imagine seeing hideous human faces in them,” etc. Daft physical jokes are chucked in at speed, never milked and some lines have a precious unexpected oddity. The son chucks on a seatbelt in the jalopy, saying, “One day everyone will wear these” and Lady Fitzall shrugs: “Oh, let the boy tie himself to a chair if he wants to.”

As the bunting rises unsteadily to the roof for the Village Show and Guess the Weight of the Vicar, dastardly plots are unveiled. Contentment is general.