It was Mr. Green—in the parlour—with the candlestick! Degrees of Error and Something for the Weekend from Bristol Improv Theatre present their show that is one part Murder, She Wrote, one part Cluedo, and one part adlib. With trope characters and a 1920s theme, Murder, She Didn’t Write is among the most professional and original improv shows of the Fringe.
While most performances of Murder, She Didn’t Write are in the early evenings, some late-night shows are a bit different: the entire cast switches genders. The show is narrated by detective Angela Mansbury, whose frequent mentions of her extreme beauty and classier-than-thou personality kick off the show’s self-effacing humour. Mansbury introduces the cast and the circumstances of the murder, chosen by the audience, then re-joins the show at the end to solve the case. Meanwhile, the hyperbolic yet still somehow believable cast of suspects drink, guffaw, and overact their way through accusations and scenes of intrigue.
Cleverly relying on tropes about the 1920s, each character’s personality comes across with very little need for backstory. From Pinkie (Peter Baker), the ditzy American alcoholic who married for money, to her father, a businessman whose cartoonish posture conjures up images of Popeye the Sailor, each character is immediately familiar and recognisable. However, because the characters are so well-known in their types, the actors are able to take them one step further and defy their characters in very amusing ways. Pinkie, for example, turns out to have a harsh dry wit that belittles everyone around her. Mr. Orange, meanwhile, while his major character trait was being sexually attracted to pretty much everyone in the show in a fairly lecherous way, was actually quite a nice guy, and at times seemed even innocent. These layers added surprise, and even when making up lines on the spot the actors could all clearly add humour and uniqueness to their characters.
The smartest aspect of doing an improv murder mystery show is that the actor’s slip-ups can become part of the plot line. Murder mysteries, when well-written, are fun because they give the audience small clues before the big reveal at the end, so they can be played along like a game. In improv, meanwhile, the actors sometimes make mistakes and contradict one another, unable to remember all of the rules of the story invented by the other characters. If the audience watches closely, they can pick up on these errors, which Angela Mansbury then uses at the end of the story to explain how she has solved the murder. This is a fascinating take on the classic murder mystery genre that keeps all of the intrigue while adding humour and farce.
Murder, She Didn’t Write is a guarantee for a good time and constant laughter. Even if the actors keep to their normal genders, this Bristol group can be considered a highlight of Fringe improv.
Murder, She Didn’t Write
Photo credit: © Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society