A Murder Most Foley (Pleasance Theatre, London)

A Murder Most Foley (Pleasance Theatre, London)

Creative mayhem takes over the StageSpace at the Pleasance with a soundly satisfying and light-hearted murder mystery that will definitely resonate with amateur sleuths.

A Murder Most Foley presents a quality whodunit that in itself would stand up to investigation – but throws in the extra dimension of increasingly nonsensical sound effects performed live by a ridiculously impressive and hard-working cast of five.

Its high standard raises it above the level of festival fringe material, with pleasingly frenzied performances and a very worthwhile script. It is silly enough to be wildly entertaining and ingenious enough to exercise the little grey cells of any wanting to play armchair detective.

The Pleasance has recently seen Elliot Liburd’s acting talent in the commendable tragicomedy Bismillah!: here he skilfully directs his own writing debut, a work of imagination, humour and creativity.

The plot has the whiff of a John Buchan thriller, sending its less than competent Private Detective hero Dick Reference (and yes, it IS funny every time it’s mentioned!) to a remote Scottish island to solve the murder of the laird of a manor only to find a group of suspects who very quickly become victims themselves.

As the story dashes along with a host of memorable characters played by the small cast (terrible twins, an unhinged sea captain who bursts into song, a bluff colonel, a femme fatale, a shady butler and an outrageous lady of the house to name but a few) the performers also turn to a foley table to provide an extraordinary range of sound effects, from tossed pancakes to squashed heads. Coconuts providing the clip clop of hooves, footsteps, and popping balloons for gunshots are among the more basic sounds on offer.

The frenetic pace intensifies as Detective Dick and his able assistant draw closer to solving the crimes, with the tireless team of five playing instruments as well as providing effects for trains, swordfights, windy weather, car crashes, and a leather armchair.

It all works so well because it is clearly born out of the writer’s love of the genre, and an unashamed fondness for silliness, which the cast turn into something infectious. It never pretends to be a staged radio play (such as the trio of Agatha Christie works presented on tour occasionally as Murder on Air) but makes the most of the audience seeing the sound effects created.

A wider stage would allow the foley desk to be seen and the efforts of the artists more easily appreciated, as some gems are lost behind the action, yet an intimate venue is important to allow the fullest of audience engagement, so there’s no simple solution.

The strong cast (who must surely collapse in a pool of perspiration after the bows) consists of Isambard Rawbone as the best Dick around, Fiona Carson, Holly Cuffley, Dominic Blight and Tamara Tooher, who all earn five stars in each of their performing skills – musical accompaniment, foley, and acting such a colourful miscellany of characters.

A venture by Fools Rush In (a company set up by Elliott Liburd and Tamara Tooher to produce funny, entertaining theatre, which they most assuredly do here) in association with Fourth Monkey Theatre Company, this is a joy from start to finish and promises much for the future.

On the strength of this offering alone, the company could easily grow to rival the theatrical finesse of The Play That Goes Wrong gang. It is no mystery at all why this assured little production has scored such success in a short run and audiences will have certainly left wanting more.

David Guest