With no funding from the Arts Council or local government, the Park Theatre relies on fundraising to keep its doors open and provide a valuable service to the local community. Thankfully its latest comedy, Whodunnit (Unrehearsed) aims to not only raise much-needed funds for the theatre, but to provide audiences with an utterly hilarious experience they’re unlikely to forget.
As the name suggests, Whodunnit (Unrehearsed) is a spoof murder-mystery, but with a bit of a twist. When a murder takes place in the remote Dangle manor house on the island of Darkwater, a detective from Scotland Yard is sent to investigate. Each night a different celebrity, from the likes of Jim Broadbent and Joanna Lumley to Damien Lewis and Matthew Broderick, takes on the role of the inspector, however unlike the other members of the cast they haven’t seen the script, they haven’t rehearsed, and instead they’re fed their lines on stage through an ear piece, with hilarious results.
Written and directed by Jez Bond and Mark Cameron, the play stars Candida Gubbins, Lewis Bruniges, Omar Ibrahim, Patrick Ryecart and Natasha Cottriall and includes voiceovers from the legendary Ian McKellen, Judi Dench and Miriam Margoles. The identity of the inspector is kept a closely-guarded secret until each performance, with even the theatre referring to the celebrities by code names to avoid giving the game away. Out of the 22 possible celebrities performing across the two weeks I was lucky enough to see Gillian Anderson as she donned the detective’s cloak, deer stalker hat (not to mention fake moustache) to play the inspector, assisted by line feeder Robert Blackwood. Having recently tread the boards as Margo Channing in All About Eve, Anderson returned to the stage for one night only in an evening like no other as she set about trying to solve the mystery in front of her.
While the general premise is somewhat predictable, Whodunnit Unrehearsed is brilliantly good fun, a spoof murder mystery packed full of belly laughs from the very get-go. After the celebrity is briefly shown around Lee Newby’s sparse set, which literally leaves a lot to the imagination, the play gets underway. The first act, though a touch on the long side and in need of a little tightening up, sets the scene well and introduces the audience to the characters, from housekeeper Anne Watt (Candida Gubbins), who doesn’t know how to fire a gun thank you very much; to the very American Oscar Weissenberginelli with his very expressive eyes. But it’s not until the inspector turns up that the play really kicks into gear. Anderson coped admirably with whatever was thrown at her (even a bad X-Files pun), showcasing her comic talents as she immediately got into the spirit of things, to the amusement of both the audience and her co-stars, their corpsing adding to the hilarity of the piece. The funniest moments within the play by far are those where the star guests are caught unaware, whether it’s being deliberately fed the wrong lines, forced to improvise or forgetting where a key (but invisible part) of the set is located (in Anderson’s case the French doors).
Meanwhile the regular cast do exceptionally well to hold it together when their inspector inevitably gets something wrong (at one point Anderson misheard her line and confused “towels” with “cows”) and the action descends into chaos. Of particular note are Patrick Ryecart who provides a great deal of laughs as the eccentric, bumbling Digby Dangle (Patrick Ryecart); while Natasha Cottriall excels as his feisty daughter Felicity, her mispronunciation of Oscar’s surname particularly amusing. Elsewhere Julian McCready’s lighting adds to the atmosphere, while Andre T’s sound design also leaves a lasting impact (you’ll have to see the play to find out why!)
With simple humour that wouldn’t look out of place in The Play That Goes Wrong (albeit the Park’s creation is much more enjoyable), Whodunnit (Unrehearsed) is pure joy and it makes a refreshing change to see normally polished performers caught off-guard to become part of the joke – all in good spirit and for a great cause. A unique concept, Whodunnit (Unrehearsed) is a brilliantly funny play and an unforgettable few hours of entertainment. While it may be the first time the Park Theatre has tried something like this, let’s hope it’s not the last!
Whodunnit Unrehearsed is playing at the Park Theatre until Saturday 27 July. While the rest of the run is currently sold out, limited standing tickets are available each day from 10am. For more information visit http://www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/whodunnit-unrehearsed
Photo credit: Piers Foley