Murder on Air (Theatre Royal, Brighton)

I always enjoy seeing a good drama by that criminal dame Agatha Christie so it was a nice surprise to see not one but three thrillers presented as part of Murder on Air at Brighton.

It was really clever, because the company pretended to be actors and they were recording the three plays for radio in the 1950s. If it had been much earlier they wouldn’t have been doing it because radio hadn’t been invented, so thank goodness for Macaroni.

The big success of this show is that while the performers are speaking a man sits at the side making funny noises. If a champagne cork has to pop in the script then he pops a champagne cork; if a door needs to slam he slams a door; if a telephone bell is ringing he rings a bell; and if a murder has to be committed then a draw is made just before the play starts and a member of the audience is selected to be killed – or at least that’s what I was told when I took my seat, though I may not have been paying proper attention, because I saw someone who looked a bit like Susan Boyle, though I later discovered it was Christopher Biggins in a dress. I was so excited I made my way noiselessly across several rows of the audience to give him a wine gum, but my way was barred by Sir Ian McKellen, or someone who looked very much like him.

Jenny Seagrove and Tom Conti were the guest celebrities in this production, though I was a bit confused as Tom Conti (best known for being the father of ventriloquist Nina Conti) played Hercule Poirot in one of the plays and I feel sure it should have been Robert Powell (best known for playing Jesus on TV), who certainly played him last time I saw Poirot on stage, which was a production of Black Coffee at Eastbourne when all the lights went out. I get a bit nervous when the lights go out and tend to let out an ear-piercing scream, which is a big problem when I go to bed at night and I think it might upset the neighbours.

A few things disappointed me. First off the cast were wearing black evening dress, which wasn’t very realistic as they wouldn’t have been seen on the radio unless it was being televised but Yogi Bear hadn’t long invented televisions by then so it can’t have been. Also there was a clock on stage which was stuck at 11.15 and I kept getting concerned that it was the real time and I was late for my last bus.

Jenny Seagrove (best known for voicing a number of Waitrose TV ads) was very good and I thought how kind it was of her husband Bill Kenwright to find her so many nice roles to play on stage. Tom Conti was quite annoying and kept talking to the audience, though as I was playing Bejeweled Blitz on my phone the first time I thought it was a quiz and started shouting lines from Shirley Valentine at him until my friend popped a large gobstopper into my mouth.

One of the most exciting things that happened for me was the way the sounds effects man smashed a cabbage into tiny pieces with a hammer to represent one of the murders. I was so enthralled I am going to try it with a range of other vegetables when I get home.

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