A DAFT DETECTIVE DOUBLE-ACT
Retro clutter round a piano: files, a hatstand, model house, gun, notebook, handcuffs. We are in the territory of smalltown detective fiction, a touch of the Poirots crossed with parodic Chandleresque film-noir ( this miniature musical was born off-Broadway, and won a Jefferson prize in Chicago). Add a dash of Marx brothers, a memory of Tom Lehrer and an overlay of vaudeville. The style is frantic: riffs and duet tricks on the piano and songs with memorably cod-desperate rhymes (“When you’re feeling stressy – a bit -er – S-o-S-y..”. Or “He said I was graceful, said I had a faceful / Of features, like eyebrows and eyes”).
Its creators Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair meld the musical outbreaks into the story with considerable skill and determinedly batshit silliness. All this is performed by two young men in pinstripe trousers and formal grey waistcoats. Ed MacArthur is an ambitious policeman yearning for detective glory, and Jeremy Legat, changing character sometimes second by second , is all the suspects. With reversible hat he is a bickering old couple accusing one another, with glasses on his nose the victim’s suspiciously undistressed wife , an ageing former showgirl. By crossing his arms and booming he becomes a needy psychiatrist, and with nothing but some elegantly skilled physical work a geeky girl doing a criminology PhD, a choir of boy scouts and a soulful, suspicious ballerina. They all have a motive, obviously, for killing a famous novelist.
There are jokes which would drag a laugh out of anyone, and a couple of stunning big numbers (Legat eventually gets green smoke, bubbles, sparkles and a Chicago leg up on the piano). But there’s a lot of mugging and broad self-awareness, and some, like my companion, won’t entirely take to it. But if you have a cheerful drink inside you and a yearning for some proper flippancy in this angst-loving age, it just about hits the spot.
The performers are superb, not least as pianists. MacArthur is earnestly geeky as the detective , and Legat, in his multiple fast-changing characters, walks the tricky line between being seriously annoying and dazzlingly brilliant. For me he stayed just the right side, and that in itself is a trick worth watching.
Luke Sheppard directs with Tom Atwood as musical director. It’s off to the former St James Theatre next, where Andrew Lloyd-Webber aims to curate and encourage just such musical flights.
box office 01635 46044 to 25 Feb
Then to: The Other Palace studio, SW1 2-18 March 0844 264 2121