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Murder at Checkmate Manor

May 2018 saw the Phoenix Players take to the stage in the delightful Bear Pit Theatre once more with their latest production: The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society production of ‘Murder At Checkmate Manor’; how unbelievable is it that the title of the show was possibly the easiest thing for the cast and crew to remember?

The show itself was first staged at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon exactly 30 years ago, and the Phoenix Players, with Graham Robson and the assistance of Baz Stilinski at the helm, certainly showed their skill in producing a display equally as professional and enjoyable as it was for audiences back then.

Upon arrival, audience members were greeted by the cast already in character which perfectly set the ambience for the entire evening, and once seated were witness to a painting, a curtain and an entire flat falling down in expert fashion! The story itself is set as a ‘play within a play’, with a fashion show, a slide-show and much more thrown in for good measure. The four leading ladies, Rosemary Smith, Fiona Robson, Karen McDonald and Lisa Maxwell played several roles throughout and each with finesse, know-how, dramatic interpretation and perfect comedic timing. They were joined by Roger Gowland as ‘Gordon’, the stage-manager who was thrust into a role last minute; his ability to miss cues, forget and/or invent lines was greatly executed throughout! Finally, the ‘cast’ were rounded off by Lynda Jepson and Carlyne McHugh who also injected their own humour and flare greatly. Which only leave the ‘crew’, who were actually just as involved on-stage as they were off! From expert coconut clapping, to rewiring a projector, to the quickest costume changes known to man, to lighting and sound cues either in the wrong place or having the complete opposite effect than was needed, again it was all expertly timed and well delivered.

This show was a delight from start to finish, to get things right on stage is no easy feat in most cases, but to get them wrong in the right way shows an even greater skill in theatre producing. Some highlights to note had to be the infamous, ‘chair scene’, which was choreographed to utter perfection. And, of course, the rocket ship blasting off from the stage with an astronaut dressed as Danger Mouse at its helm! Maybe you had to be there; in this reviewers’ opinion, it was a great shame if you weren’t. Review by Lee Holt, Pulse Productions

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