West Wittering Players make a rare foray into the world of murder mysteries for their spring production.
After a string of comedies, they are offering what director Dennis Harrison calls a “proper murder mystery” for the first time in several years.
Prescription for Murder by Norman Robbins runs from Wednesday, April 10 to Saturday, April 13 at The West Wittering Memorial Hall at 7.30pm.
In the seemingly-quiet town of Bere Knighton there is never a dull moment for Dr Richard Forth. Not only does he have a hectic work schedule and an awkward friendship with his ex-girlfriend, but his wife, Barbara, is constantly ill and nobody knows what is wrong with her. When Eric Dawson, a stranger, claims to have known Richard’s second fiancee – a woman Richard claims does not exist – Barbara’s health worsens and she isn’t the only one. Somebody is out to kill Barbara and anyone else who gets in their way…
Dennis directs having previously played Dr Forth for Ferring: “We had got into a series of comedies at West Wittering. We did a lot of Inspector Pratt comedies for a while and we did There Goes The Bride and before that we did Pull The Other One.”
It was time for something different: “And when I did this one at Ferring, I just thought that it had West Wittering written all over it. I just thought it would suit a West Wittering audience, something they would love.
“And I managed to cast it without me!”
But previous experience of the play certainly helps: “First of all, obviously, you know the main character; you know what sort of impression the main character needs to create on the audience. You know the response to the moves and what should be happening in this particular play. Murder mysteries are very much about body language. With the body language, the actors need to give the right impression. With the body language, they need to draw the audience down a blind alley and then pull them out of it so they can draw then down another blind alley before it all finally works out.
“I am talking about a look or a frown. Of course, the danger is that the actors could easily ham it up too much. It’s the subtlety that I want!”
Also important is timing: “But one of the things, as you would expect with Norman Robbins who is also a comedy writer, there is a certain amount of comedy in it, and it is important to get that comedy right so that it leaves one or two questions unanswered. You need to leave a few questions in the dialogue that start to move the suspicion around. There is an obvious culprit that may not be the culprit in the end, and then there are other characters that come into it to create a motive for somebody else. What you really want to get across is ‘Who is the murderer?’ and ‘Who is going to get murdered next?’”
Inevitably, Dennis finds himself wishing he were actually in the play. He has directed a number of times and says there is plenty of satisfaction to be had from directing, particularly in terms of shaping the way a play comes together.
But acting will always be his preference: “There is just something about the buzz when the audience is there and they are reacting to what you are doing. You are getting the immediate feedback and you know whether what you are doing is successful, either because it is comedy and they are laughing or because you are surprising them.”
Tickets are £8 and £7.50 from Sayas News, Rookwood Road on 01243 513110.