Murder on Mulholland Drive, Phoenix Theatre Company BY Richard Evans

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Theatr Clwyd, Friday January 24th 2020. Review by Richard Evans.

Suspense, intrigue, who will get their revenge?

This is a new play, written, directed and lead by Richard Jones and produced by Phoenix Theatre Company from Mold, and requested by the Rotary Club.  It was first performed last May at Theatr Clwyd and reprised this week.

Full marks for bringing a new script and showing the ambition to stage this play.  It made for an enjoyable evening’s entertainment, which while being a very wordy script held my attention to the end.  I particularly enjoyed the characterisation.  As the play was set in Hollywood in the 1950’s it spoofed the major film stars of the day very well, adding a nice touch of humour.

I also thought the live music added much to the play.  The band, J. Edgar and the Hoovers was simple yet highly effective.  A three piece unit played a mixture of covers of 1950’s standards and original compositions tailored to suit the mood and the characters. 

This was a comic murder mystery revolving around a major Hollywood film producer who had a mega salary and an ego to go with it.  He had got to the top with a mixture of grandiose gesture, manipulation, blackmail and cruelty such that he incurred hate in the other characters.  This was played realistically by Richard Jones and while the first act was dominated by him, this suited the bombastic nature of the character and fitted the story line well.  Having gained many enemies on his rise to the top, there was no shortage of people willing to bop him off! 

The second act saw the introduction of Sam Shade, detective, a spoof of Humphrey Bogarts film noir character convincingly delivered by John Kinsey, despite the slightly odd distraction of singing ‘Rawhide’ shortly after his entrance.  This seemed out of kilter with the rest of the play.  The denouement had a suitable twist at the end, allusive of some of the best that Hollywood produced in the 1950’s and also adding great comic value. 

Perhaps I am wrong, I gained the impression that the first act, which was short at 40 minutes long ended too early, omitting one scene that had to be delivered at the start of the second act to avoid effectively writing out one of the characters.   

I found the script very word heavy and the storyline repetitive at times yet there was much to enjoy about this play.  It was great to see allusions to other films or series like Back to the Future and Miss Marple.  The use of Jimmy Cagney’s ‘You dirty rat’ was great showing the script was cleverly constructed and humourous. 

The topic matter is indeed relevant to what has taken place in Hollywood down through the years.    However, I thought the intros in the first act were laboured and could have been incorporated into the following scenes showing the interaction with the lead and the rest of the characters.  Having said this, the acting by all involved was professional and delivered really well. 

Bearing in mind this is an ambitious piece of theatre, performed by an amateur group albeit with a long pedigree it was a very good evening’s entertainment.  Of course it could be honed and refined, but I did not see anyone leave disappointed and the play left the audience with a warm, feel good factor. 

4 stars out of 5, 4 rather than 3.5 because of its originality

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