King’s Theatre, Edinburgh – until 21 March 2016
Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
Efficiently staged, well acted and cleverly paced, Rehearsal for Murder has everything you would want from a large-scale touring production.
Originally a 1982 TV movie written by Richard Levinson and William Link, and adapted for the stage by David Rogers, the play is a claustrophobic, self-consciously theatrical whodunnit. A year after the suicide of failing film star turned stage actor Monica Welles, her fiancé, playwright Alex Dennison gathers together those who were involved in her last days. Ostensibly, this is for a workshop on his new play.
However, it soon becomes clear that the events of the play are uncannily similar to Monica’s death, and that Alex does not believe she killed herself.
The setting lends itself to some in-jokes and breaking of the fourth wall, but thankfully this is kept to a minimum as the storyline unfolds. Bill Kenwright’s new Classic Thriller Theatre Company – the successor to his Agatha Christie company – provides the production we have come to expect, with a well built, attractive set, clear direction and a host of familiar TV faces.
Robert Daws has a great deal of work to do as Dennison, acting as both a narrator figure and the main driver of events. Throughout, he is an efficient central figure, retaining the audience’s sympathies but leaving enough doubt about his motivations to keep everyone guessing.
Amy Robbins (Daws’s wife both in real life and in The Royal) is Monica – and without spoiling anything, it is fair to say she has more to do onstage than you might expect from a character who died a year before the play takes place.
There is something very touching about her portrayal of an established actor who is out of her comfort zone, and the obvious and genuine affection between her and Daws’s characters makes his desire to find out what really happened to her believable.
Publicity image – Rehearsal for Murder
Robert (Drop The Dead Donkey) Duncan’s blustering, ageing matinee idol David is a winning characterisation – although his wounded look to the audience, when his protestation that a part is too old for him gets a laugh, is taking things a little too far.
Ben Nealon and Lucy Dixon, probably best known for Soldier, Soldier and Hollyoaks respectively, turn in solid support. Dixon appears at first to be turning in a rather grating ‘comedy Northerner’ turn but it very soon becomes clear that there is more to it than that.
Familiar TV faces in touring productions are often content – indeed, are very often required – to turn in a performance close enough to their best-known persona to please their fans. However, Steven Pinder here is a very long way from his most familiar role as Max Farnham for many years on Brookside, as a crumpled, down-at-heel and surprisingly softly spoken director, in what is a very interesting performance.
cleverly played comedic foil
Susan Penhaligon, meanwhile, is the much louder, brasher producer Bella, in a broad characterisation that provides a much needed and cleverly played comedic foil to the others. The four other cast members – Martin Carroll, Holly Ellis, Mark Carter and Gwynfor Jones – may not have the profile to get their names on the poster, but nevertheless are integral to the story and acquit themselves well.
Publicity image – Rehearsal for Murder
As might be expected from the duo who created Columbo and Murder, She Wrote, the storyline is taut and elegant, with details both relevant and misleading cleverly drip-fed. The stage adaptation is also cleverly done, but the shift in location to London’s West End means there are a couple of details that do not quite ring true.
Roy Marsden (also a familiar TV face as DCI Adam Dalgliesh) directs effectively and unfussily. Particularly impressive is the way that he keeps such a large cast on stage most of the time without making them seem static, yet without giving them unnecessary things to do.
There are no fireworks here, and very little that will truly surprise. This is the best possible example of a three-star show. This does not mean in any way it is bad; rather, it is exactly what you should expect. If you like an entertaining whodunnit, this is exactly the solid, thoroughly enjoyable piece you are looking for.
Running time 2 hours (including one interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ.
Monday 21 – Saturday 26 March 2016
Daily: 7.30pm; Matinees Wed 23 and Sat 26: 2.30pm.
Details and tickets from: http://www.edtheatres.com/rehearsalformurder
Rehearsal For Murder on tour:
21 – 26 Mar
0131 529 6000
29 Mar – 2 Apr
4 – 9 Apr
New Alexandra Theatre
0844 871 3011
11 – 16 Apr
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
01483 44 00 00
18 – 23 Apr
020 8688 9291
25 – 30 Apr
9 – 14 May
024 7655 3055
16 – 21 May
20 – 25 Jun
Milton Keynes Theatre
0844 871 7652
27 Jun – 2 Jul
4 – 9 Jul
0844 848 2700
11 – 16 Jul
0844 871 7650
18 – 23 Jul
Hall for Cornwall
25 – 30 Jul
01246 345 222
1 – 6 Aug
Weston Super Mare
22 – 27 Aug
0844 871 7647
29 Aug – 3 Sep
His Majesty’s Theatre
0845 270 8200
5 – 10 Sep
Bord Gais Theatre
12 – 17 Sep
0844 871 3023
19 – 24 Sep
3 – 8 Oct