The Murder Game (2002)

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Poster by Poster Designer

by Constance Cox

Directed by Emma Howcutt and Anna York

Performances: Thu 14th - Sat 16th November 2002, Prompt Corner


Brian Hamilton lives in affluent comfort, courtesy of his wife Sheila. However, sometimes money is just not enough. When Sheila finds out that Brian has been having an affair with aspiring actress June she decides to leave. With the money. And the house.

After Brian nearly runs down Gerry Stephens in his car, he invites him in for a drink to recover and it doesn't take long for Gerry to discover the truth of Brian's domestic situation. Gerry suggests a fool-proof method so that Brian can live in the style to which he has become accustomed. Gerry will kill Sheila - the only benefit to him being the satisfaction of having committed the "perfect murder".

All Brian has to do is be well out of the way. But, as Brian soon realises, the easy way out is not always that easy.




On reading the play for the first time, I was struck by how difficult a piece this could be to execute. There is very little 'business' - most of the dramatic tension comes from the wordplay between the characters. The drama is inherent rather than explicit.

So I was pleasantly surprised seeing the show in run-up - and really quite impressed after seeing it in front of an audience on Friday night. There were four strong performances. Coupled with Mike Elliott's lighting it made for an excellent evening's entertainment.

There were a few areas where the production could have been improved - but these are niggling little things, and from very much a personal viewpoint.

Firstly scene changes. There were a number of occasions where the scene change literally brought the action to a shuddering halt - particularly in the moment where Peter Fortune's character, Gerry, said 'it could happen like this....' - and we are presented with a short scene that graphically depicts his murderous plans. In my view it was unnecessary for a scene change at this point - and all the relevant pieces could have been moved by either the actors, or left alone entirely. I don't really see the point of the stage manager coming on to pick up a bag and move a can of Coke - the bag could have been hidden behind the sofa by the actor soon after it was brought in (the audience would soon forget it was there) and the actor could have taken the Coke can off himself. Likewise at the other end of the scene: he could have brought the wig and coat on himself.

This is a personal view. I just hate scene changes. I'm never aware of them in professional theatre - and if I am directing something it's the one thing I try to avoid at all costs. As an actor I am more than happy to bring on a prop - especially if it is laid out on a table, and then there is someone to grab it off me backstage!

As I said from the outset of the review, I feel that this sort of piece is difficult to pull off. This is because it relies on an actor's ability to really connect - the drama comes from what we are not being told or presented with - but the underlying fear, tension and manipulation. Key to this is the relationship between the overtly heterosexual Brian, and the itinerant homosexual, Gerry. The success of the play hinges on this relationship: Gerry's expert manipulation and abuse of poor gullible greedy Brian, leading to final turning of tables and downfall of Brian.

Why is this difficult? For starters, this piece was written in the 70s. It would be far easier for a 70s audience to feel instantly uncomfortable about the idea of a gay man infiltrating someone's household and subsequently manipulating them. I think that as a written piece of drama, the play relies very heavily on this premise. (I'm not going to get drawn into an argument about whether or not the portrayal of a gay man as a pyschotic killer is pandering to Hollywood and small screen stereotyping of gay men as unstable, manipulative loners - although some members were upset by this). Despite this, Chris Vian-Smith and Peter Fortune managed to pull this relationship off quite well. There were moments where the two literally sizzled - and the atmosphere was quite electric. This was an impressive debut by Vian-Smith in a lead role - and Fortune's performance as Gerry was suitably disturbing.

A few tweaks could have lifted these performances even more. It's always too easy to rely on a sofa as a 'crutch' when you're blocking a piece. But be aware that people tend to sit when they're either told to; (sit down!!) or when they are relaxed and comfortable. Too much of the action was centred around the sofa - with characters looking quite relaxed as they discussed quite disturbing events which to my mind should have had them quite rattled. I would ask myself: what would *I* do in this situation? I'd certainly pace more, maybe perch on the arm of the sofa, maybe sit down and almost immediately stand up...?

There are also a number of physical ways in which Gerry could have 'abused' Brian even more. Standing very close, flicking fluff off his collar, straightening a collar. If Gerry was a tomcat he would spray the room to mark his territory. What subtle ways could be found for Gerry to portray his 'marking' of the territory? One small way would be to remove his anorak earlier - you only take off your coat if you intend to stay!

That said, this was a solid piece of drama, and the directors Anna York and Emma Howcutt drilled their troops well. Rachael Parry-Taylor and Victoria Waddington were convincing as the hapless females caught in Gerry's web, with Parry-Taylor delivering one of my favourite lines of the night; Gerry comments that he may have to doss down in the local police station - is it nearer than the YMCA? "It is," replies Sheila acidly, showing him the door.

Good stuff.


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