‘A glorious stream of silliness & jokes’: MURDER ON THE 12:32 TO BRISTOL (Online review)

In Online shows, Opinion, Plays, Reviews by John ChapmanLeave a Comment

There still seems to be so much online content to watch/listen to and enjoy. To keep us coming back for more there are apparently endless ways of presenting the material in new and varied formats which surprise and delight. And in these stressful times anyone who can make us laugh is onto a winner. This is the impetus behind Gigglemug formed by students from Warwick University and headed up by artistic director Sam Cochrane; strapline – “we’re serious about being silly”.

Right back at the start of the pandemic it was possible to view their stage show Timpson: The Musical (it still is) and they have already investigated the realms of audio comedy drama through their podcast Archergeddon – a less than sly dig at a certain long established radio show. Now comes a short series of pieces called Gigglemug Murder Mysteries which borrow their titles, if not their characters and plots, from the works of Agatha Christie.

The first of these is the recently released and enticingly titled Murder On The 12:32 To Bristol a rather more workaday and certainly funnier version of one of the Queen of Crime’s most celebrated works. No Hercule Poirot here, the central detective figure is Miles a criminology student from Bristol University travelling back to his alma mater when the murderer strikes.

The transport police (who arrive very quickly – well, they are the transport police so they know how these things work) seem somewhat clueless about the whole business so it is up to Miles to sort the sheep from the goats. Or rather the cows because the train is brought to a halt by a herd of bovine bullies which strand the train near Reading – which somehow keeps getting confused with red herring … and there are plenty of those. T

The victim is a loathed figure trying to toughen up his rather wimpy son Spencer by making him travel standard class and who therefore seems to be a prime suspect. Or is it one of the two football supporters, party girl Danielle (everyone is called “babe”) or blind lady Sally with a guide dog called, inexplicably, Idris Elba? And what of the train’s driver Trevor, conductor Nathan or Brenda the girl who runs the buffet car? In typical Christie fashion they all seem to have a motive and the opportunity.

Not that any of this really matters – in fact, I confess to rather losing the thread of the plot which had quite a few twists and turns and as so often with this genre a false denouement – as ultimately it’s all an excuse for a glorious stream of silliness and jokes some of which repay careful thinking about; though if you do be warned that you just might miss the next one. Written by Cochrane it is heavy on word play including a neat running gag about types of pasta and, rather daringly for audio some stuff that you really need to visualise. The character of Sally becomes particularly handy here as, with her condition, she has to constantly ask that someone describes to her what is happening – which, of course, helps the listener too. The main USP of the show, however, is that all the characters, and I counted at least a dozen, are played by just one actor. All credit to Lewis Doherty for finding enough accents, timbre of voice and inflexions to differentiate the various inhabitants of the train – it’s a real feat of craftsmanship. Although not a name I’m familiar with he obviously has form in creating one man shows (his Beast trilogy – Wolf/Boar/Hawk – seems particularly praised online) and proves to be an ideal choice. I note that one biography states “he would be a gold medallist in the theatre world’s Olympics due to his relentless physicality”; not much use here but it seems to be equally applicable to his vocal dexterity. I’m not sure how it was all technically recorded but it’s all seamlessly edited together and enhanced by cleverly placed sound effects and some jaunty/annoying (take your pick) music from Benedict Richardson.

Christie’s whodunits have been spoofed many a time before – Mischief Theatre’s original stage show of The Play That Goes Wrong is a prime example and even Tom Stoppard had a go in The Real Inspector Hound – and this is another in the roll call which plainly loves its subject even as it is pulling the source material apart. Gigglemug have two future planned episodes featuring semi-amateur sleuth Miles called respectively And Then There Were Some and The Spousetrap; I think that probably tells you all you need to know.

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John Chapman
John Chapman works as a freelance education consultant, writer and copy editor. Prior to this, he was an Assistant Headteacher specialising in English and Drama. John first took to the stage as a schoolboy pretending to be a Latin frog. Decades later, he has been involved with 150+ productions, usually as an actor or director. He is currently a member of Tower Theatre in Stoke Newington, London. In 2016, he was in their “mechanicals” team that worked as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Play For The Nation, appearing both at the Barbican and in Stratford-upon-Avon. In 2004, he served as a panellist on the Olivier Awards; he is currently an Offies assessor. He reviews for a variety of websites, writes his own independent blog 2ndFromBottom about his theatrical life.
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John Chapman on RssJohn Chapman on Twitter
John Chapman
John Chapman works as a freelance education consultant, writer and copy editor. Prior to this, he was an Assistant Headteacher specialising in English and Drama. John first took to the stage as a schoolboy pretending to be a Latin frog. Decades later, he has been involved with 150+ productions, usually as an actor or director. He is currently a member of Tower Theatre in Stoke Newington, London. In 2016, he was in their “mechanicals” team that worked as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Play For The Nation, appearing both at the Barbican and in Stratford-upon-Avon. In 2004, he served as a panellist on the Olivier Awards; he is currently an Offies assessor. He reviews for a variety of websites, writes his own independent blog 2ndFromBottom about his theatrical life.

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