Rehearsal for Murder at The New Brighton Floral Pavilion

Posted on 16 March 2016
By Chris High
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There aren’t too many straight crime dramas knocking around outside of the usual stalwarts so, when The New Brighton Floral Pavilion announced this short run – featuring a stellar cast of TV recognisable and a script penned by Murder She Wrote and Columbo creators, Levinson and Link – then the anticipation for Rehearsal for Murder was raised more than a notch or two.

And the show doesn’t disappoint in any way whatsoever.

Playwright Alex Dennison is left heartbroken when his fiancée and leading lady Monica Welles is found dead from an apparent suicide after the opening night of her stage debut. On the anniversary of that ill-fated night, Alex assembles the same cast and crew in the same theatre, for a reading of his new play. But as the reading progresses, the play’s similarity to actual events becomes increasingly uncomfortable for the participants, and it soon becomes clear that Alex believes Monica was murdered and his new play is a devious cat-and-mouse chase to uncover her killer.

Packed with some fine performances – not least of which being provided by Robert Daws, who’s bereaved Alex Dennison is on stage virtually throughout and is delivered faultlessly – this a Whodunnit for everybody and, yet, is so intrinsically and quintessentially British, it is testament to not only the cast but also the fine directorship of Roy Marsden that it has translated from being an American TV script to that which it is now.

The stage, with 11 actors taking part, can appear a little overcrowded on occasions, but this matters not a jot, as the story evolves through series of flashbacks disguised as readings of the new play for which they have been summoned. A clever device that not only adds to the delightfully constructed story but also a clarity that might otherwise become dimmed.

As Monica Welles, Amy Robbins is wonderfully demure, feisty, out-and-out nasty in the role, thereby asking to like and dislike her in equal measure so that by the end, there can only be one place to lay our affections. As David Mathews Robert Duncan is all smarm and schmooze – a stereotypical old school actor – and nails such a character’s affectations superbly well, whereas Susan Penhaligon’s producer, Bella Lamb, is just fey and elusive enough to add a certain menace to proceedings.

Steven Pinder as the show’s Director, Lloyd Andrews, picks up his vulnerability and naiveté and so, for some part, comes across as a superbly crafted ‘weakling’ with Lucy Dixon’s vampish Karen Daniels and Ben Nealon’s upbeat Leo Gibbs playing off each other with such slick timing, by the end it is all but impossible to even guess who did the deed to poor old Monica which, naturally, adds yet fun to the night.

Don’t for a single second think that “something” doesn’t quite gel, because rest assured that all will be revealed and you will be left with a more than satisfying “Ahhh” moment at the end of what is a fun night of murder … if ever there can be such a thing.

Rehearsal for Murder
The Floral Pavilion, New Brighton
March 14 – March 19, 2016
Authors: Richard Levinson & William Link
Director: Roy Marsden
Producer: BK Productions
Cast: Robert Daws, Amy Robbins, Robert Duncan, Susan Penhaligon
Steven Pinder, Lucy Dixon, Ben Nealon, Martin Carroll, Holly Ellis, Mark Carter, Gwynfor Jones
Running Time: 2 hrs
PR Rating: **** Murderous Fun