Review: Murder Village: An Improvised Whodunnit

The Butterfly Club
Melbourne International Comedy Festival
From 6 April

As you walk through Melbourne’s city after the sunset, there’s an energetic hussle and gatherings of people with a vibe in the April air that gently grazes over your face making you aware that yes, it’s the Melbourne International Comedy Festival season!

There seems to be little hubs all around the city of excited patrons waiting to have a laugh here, there and everywhere.  The venues are all a bustle of happiness, with couples on dates, friends meeting and only a slight reminisce of what once was COVID lockdowns where masks are just a suggestion.  It’s so lovely to see everyone out and about, and there’s nothing like a fun evening out to challenge the daily ins and outs of a working week.

So stepping into The Butterfly Club to be a part of Murder Village – An Improvised Whodunnit, there’s a heightened atmosphere around the casual chit chat as you climb the stairs.  What may be presented this eve is the question on everyone’s minds and it’s rather exhilarating!  There are little signs plastered around the foyer and hallways where you can scan in to contribute to the thrilling whodunnit, choosing your own adventure, or in this case – picking out who gets the death sentence!

On entry to the small room where the victim awaits, there is a large arrangement of seating where the blue walls are covered with interesting portraits. There is some simple staging at the front of what feels like a relaxed loungeroom and it’s cozy, almost lulling you into a state of surreal comfort before the murder takes place and you jolt at the screams.

There are 6 players who make their way through the audience on announcement, and all are just so good at portraying the stereotypical characterisations of their given roles. 

Greeted firstly by French Detective Monsieur Aragon Pewter (Lliam Amor) who commands the stage, he snatches the attention of all as he steps up to crack the case. He highly resembles the personality traits of Agatha Christie’s famous Poirot and so at once we in the audience commence the rotations of the little grey cells. Amor’s accent is a bit of fun and you can tell he’s enjoying himself, playing up the part with a wonderful sense of humour and lots of quick thinking.  

Now, what will happen next?  

Well, we then meet the candidates for murder and slayer.  

John Quince (Izaak Lim) flutters on stage as the sinister shadowy undertaker.  He’s almost like a cockroach that continues crawling when it’s had its head lopped off, and Lim plays this perfectly with a freakishly superb manner that’s only purpose is to make you cringe.

Phyllis Good (Amy Moule) tottles along next as the clumsy midwife who’s jittery personality keeps you rather on edge.  More so though, you’re waiting for her snappy responses and smart reactions and Moule is all class here.  Her gentle nature and seemingly do-gooder personality appeals to many and in doing so, makes her the perfect candidate for murder – as highly voted by many in the audience!

Jeremy Toots (Jason Geary) pops next into the spotlight, and he’s all suggestively sweet and flamboyant.  Described as the jovial candy salesman, Geary displayed a frightfully big personality tagged with the undertone that you never quite know what he’s putting into the sweets he’s selling.  Avoid the lolly shop, there’s something in the space time continuum that is clearly headlining something incredibly dodgy is going on there!

Lesley McBride (Louisa Fitzhardinge) saddles up next and is the girl next door, nature loving stablehand.  She loves horses almost a little too much, and is friendly to everyone in Murder Village.  Not quite sure why you’d want to live in a town with that name, but alas here they all are.  Fitzhardinge has a beautifully captivating smile on stage, making much around her seem innocent.  But whether or not she can be trusted, is up to you to decide.

Gliding onto the set we are also introduced to Detective Inspector Owen Gullet (David Massingham) who narrates much of the performance, with a crafty sense of humour. His character is curious but relaxed, and he creates an atmosphere that is thoroughly enjoyable. Massingham is clearly the witty genius behind it all and leads the way for the others to play.  He weaves a storyline out of the way the characters interact, adds context and content, comedy and fun plot twists which are sometimes subtle or so upfront that you see it coming and when it confronts you in that head on collision you strangely enjoy the chills.  Accompanied by the storytelling is the incredibly clever pianist sitting amongst the audience, heightening the moods with smart atmospheric music that has all the timing right. The costumes were simple and appropriate, the lighting promptly ending a scene.  All stagecraft work was purposeful and effective and tied the performance up in a nice little knotted noose.

To go into the storyline that visited me on this eve would be to take away from the experience.  So I’ll just say that I found myself immersed in the strange little English town on Badger Day, and something wicked came this way!  The show that unfolded allowed you to experience life in Murder Village, the daily routines of these characters and how they were intertwined amongst each other.  Revenge took place weaving in and out of everybody’s business and right all up in everyone’s faces. Being a part of the audience you cheered, you laughed, you gushed, you held your breath and sat with heightened senses as you urged the detective to reveal the murderer.

The hilarity of what played out was something for all to enjoy, and I’m hoping to have another chance in the very near future to be a witness at another evening in Murder Village.

If you think of the most fun you’ve had at a theme park, rides and sugar highs included, box it up, give it a shake and then let it loose at an intimate stage setting.  The feeling is of mystified exhilaration bursting with laughter.  See the show.  Don’t lose your head.

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Wendy Samantha

Wendy Samantha

Wendy Samantha is a writer and director and runs her own performing arts school. She has worked on many shows and musicals and is head of primary music at a prestigious Melbourne private school.
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