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Elisabeth Woodcock reviews St Andrew’s College’s Dramsoc Production.
Being interested in all things crime-related and also having a passion for the performing arts means that I’m always desperate to get my hands on entertainment that involves both. I never thought that I’d be complaining about being stuck in isolation with Netflix and a blanket, but 6 months of Suits and How to Get Away with Murder can only entertain a girl for so long. Fortunately, the St Andrew’s College production of The Games Afoot (Holmes for the Holidays) was exactly the breath of fresh air that I needed.
Naturally, before writing this review I took to Google and Wikihow for some review-writing inspiration (instructions rather). The articles encouraged critics to try sandwich their criticism between two positive comments. I knew this would be a challenge in relation to this production… as the play was an absolute masterpiece.
Warning: a lot of spoilers ahead. However, consider this a favour, many of you would have been lucky to get a seat anyways – the show sold out just a few days after tickets were released.
The Game’s Afoot (Holmes for the Holidays) is an award winning ‘whodunit’ comedy thriller, intelligently composed by Ken Ludwig. Creatively directed by Alice Litchfield, this play gave us everything we love about live theatre: histrionic characters with an underlying dark side, a rollercoaster of romances and a murder mystery with many characters who could have committed the crime. Alice’s effective staging, coupled with a strategically selected cast (no really, it’s fine.) and tight interactions between actors, were pivotal to the professional performance that was delivered.
The atmosphere of a ‘whodunnit’ and the corny eeriness of the play was conveyed instantly as the audience entered the theatre to notice the dim lighting, aged Christmas carols and striking blood-red set. Meticulous attention had been paid to 1930s details and Gilette’s home was conveniently decorated with lethal weapons of many kinds to foreshadow the violence that was to come. Complete with hidden rooms and state-of-the-art gadgets, Gilette’s home was “perfect for a murder.” The moody lighting effects and sound elements were vital components to the success of this play and effectively captured the dramatic elements of the play with expert skill and credibility – despite the crew having a mere five-minute briefing on how to use the sound / lighting board.
The first act opens with a mise en abyme (a play within a play); indeed a highly challenging concept for actors to portray, which can lend itself to confusion or misinterpretations by the audience or confusion (or maybe it’s just me). Needless to say, Jeremy Elliot and Joel Gray rolled (literally) onto the stage with such flair that we need not doubt for a second their in-character occupation as actors starring in a New York Sherlock Holmes production. This set-the-scene perfectly for the spikes of theatrical role-play and lines from other renowned productions, which the Androvians quoted throughout the show.
The play then flashes forwards two weeks to William Gilette’s (Jeremy Elliot) mansion, wherein he is recovering from a gunshot wound to the arm, after an attempt on his life by an audience member at the conclusion of his recent performance in Sherlock Holmes. It’s Christmas time and William has invited his cast-mates to his Connecticut-river-home to celebrate.
The characters are brought to life when they arrive as guests to the mansion. However, one by one, each of them dissolves into insanity, either trying to solve the mysterious shooting, or becoming assassins themselves.
Newlyweds Aggie Wheeler (Estelle Catelan) and Simon Bright (Sam Reckling) enter with a humorous character contrast, seen in Estelle’s graceful charm against Sam’s goofy demeanour. Things turn south for the couple upon Aggie’s finding that Simon may have plotted a murder against her ex-husband (last holidays) in order to secure Aggie’s inherited cash). Estelle expertly converts Aggie’s character from a wealthy widow, to a psychotic, unsuspected murderess who attempts revenge against Simon. However, money is not enough for juvenile and overly enthusiastic Simon. Sam’s suitably sinister transition, when ‘massaging’ Aggie’s neck, reveals his temptations to kill Aggie, take the money and run off with his crazy side-chick who awaits. Needless to say, Estelle and Simon kept us on our toes with violent tension, and of course, brilliant humour.
The diva manner and witty remarks of Madge Geisel were well captured by Charlie Stuart, who didn’t hesitate to remind her husband Felix that she is out of his league. Throwing the pre-game-gee-up-rawson-rugby-style-slap-of-the-century across his face, Madge refuses to let his stupidity get in the way of solving the murders throughout the play. Madge’s “death” during the séance scene was superbly and humorously handled. Joel Gray, as Felix Geisel was suitably flamboyant, silly and sensitive; superbly responding to the farcical demands of the fast-moving action, and comic timing of the play. Joel’s cleverly funny refusal of Daria’s (Onor Nottle) sexual advances, along with his Toby-Belch-like performance as William’s partner-in-crime, easily cast him as an audience favourite.
The conflict of the play heightens with the entrance of Daria Chase, a toxic theatre critic, known for back-stabbing her actor-‘friends’ in her newspaper column. From her opening lines, Onor Nottle consumed the stage with passionate elegance and sinuous charm. But as they say in the theatre world, karma’s a b****, and the conclusion of Act One approaches with Daria being ironically stabbed in the back by a guest at the mansion – killing her.
Alice Litchfield’s plethora of dramatic experience was evident in her expertise in her brilliant portrayal of Martha Gillette (oh and director, and producer, and set painter, and accent coach and prop-finder). Perhaps Alice looked so natural in the sweet, but deranged, character after having juggled so many roles. A highlight of Alice’s performance was her confrontation with Daria’s murder, during which Martha nonchalantly chirps, “Oh that was me I’m afraid!” Martha’s over-protective instincts lead her to stab Daria after she threatened to ruin William’s (‘Willy boy’’s) career. William struggles to restrain Martha from revealing this secret after she takes 3 sleeping pills to ‘relax’ herself – a scene that was portrayed a little too convincingly by Alice.
Arguably the most entertaining scene of the play follows, as Felix and William attempt to hide Daria’s body by hauling her around the room like a rag doll. No doubt Onor copped some bruises – or perhaps some minor cuts after a champagne flute shattered on stage on closing night!
Inspector Goring (Onyi Nwamadi) comes to the rescue (sort of). Although smart and insightful, she is easily distracted by William’s striking looks and hints at her longing to perform live-on-stage with him; re-enacting “unsex me here” (Lady Macbeth). Surprisingly, Goring “just can’t seem to solve any [crimes]” and William must assume the persona of his beloved Sherlock Holmes to solve the murder. Onyi’s natural humour shone through flawlessly as the Inspector, creating an effortless approach to the role that was unparallelled. Her skilful improvisation and random quirks throughout the second act created an energy that kept both the audience and actors on their toes.
As the characters peak towards insanity, the play concludes and Daria’s murderers are arrested (Aggies and Simon) laying all tension to rest. But just as we wiped the sweat from our brows and relaxed our shoulders for a moment, Daria explodes onto the stage from behind a door with a deafening scream. What murder mystery would be complete without a serious *wtf* moment at the end to cancel-out any confidence you had in having understood the plot.
Overall, the play was a huge success and our thespian Androvians had the audience in the palm of their hands throughout. It was an absolute pleasure to watch, and in my opinion, has been the most impressive performance in all endeavours by Drew’s students this year. Until next year, I guess we’ll just have to settle for Netflix.