‘Homicide in Hollywood’ was engaging.
Murder Mysteries have always held a fascination for audiences and, back in the 1980s, home-hosted murder mystery parties were a huge hit. Guests were allocated a character, given clue cards and during the course of the evening a murder would take place, resulting in a fun night of detection as each guest attempted to solve the crime. Recently, this immersive style of game play has had a resurgence in popularity, resulting in theatre companies hosting their own ‘how to solve a murder’ shows. ‘Homicide in Hollywood’ presented by InsideOutside Theatre Company and devised by Liam Donnelly, has introduced a mystery that is a little more fun to solve in a Covid-19 world.
Designed and written to be flexible for staging in a variety of venues, this production benefited greatly from the intimate, dimly lit space of the Malecón Bar in Milton. With no conventional staging, the space was effectively used to make the most of the lighting available. Table placement also allowed everyone to have a good view of the proceedings.
Set in the glamorous era of 1950’s Hollywood, the evening commenced with an enthusiastic MC (Jim Barnes) introducing a variety of characters who are attending the red carpet premiere of Red Band Pictures’ latest film ‘A Night on the Town’. As the night progresses, the story unfolds and relationships between the characters become clearer until the event is interrupted by a scream. One of the characters has been murdered, and, from this point on, audiences are given a booklet containing some extra information and a chance to interview the protagonists in an attempt to find out “whodunit” before all is revealed.
The script is solid and entertaining. However, there were one or two occasions where the use of strong language, particularly from the female characters, contrasted with the time-period making it feel a little too modern.
From the glamorous dresses of the women, to the style of suits for the men, costumes were appropriately 1950s Hollywood, and good use was made of the few necessary props. It would have been nice, however, to have a flash for the paparazzi camera (if able to be sourced) to heighten the Hollywood atmosphere and a strip of red carpet running from the front door into the space to add to the overall premiere film feel. Small details in an otherwise well directed show by Imogen Hazelhurst.
Jim Barnes as Herschell Waters, the evenings MC, started the night off well with his high-energy patter and strong vocal work as he introduced each character; beginning with the diamond-draped chanteuse Veronica Rogers, played by Courtney Pennisi. In this role, Pennisi showcased her unique vocal style as she crooned her way through three musical numbers, and, although she demonstrated she could hold her own with the music, Pennisi was a little soft with dialogue and needed to bring this up to match the volume level of her singing. Unfortunately, the choice of modern songs, though well performed, did not fit with the fact that this was meant to be 50’s America.
As the leads of the film, Charles Van Cleef and Natalie Davis, Thomas Bishop and Imogen Hazlehurst were perfectly matched. Bishop was the misogynistic, self-focused leading man and Hazlehurst was his beautiful co-star. The pair successfully portrayed their characters, whose egos and personalities clashed throughout the night. They battled for recognition and attention – especially from the press and even the audience.
Olly Osborne also impressed with a strong performance and excellent vocal and accent work as the British director, Alexander Browning, who has a dodgy history with the film industry, and a not so congenial personality in private. As the starry-eyed fan Eleanora Rourke, Maddy Bosanko gave a complex performance as she switched between endearing girl next door and jealous hot tempered hater of film star Natalie Davis.
With every film premiere comes a film critic and the paparazzi. In these roles, Sam Chittenden as Robert Avery, the hated film critic, and Dominic Ryan as Archie Adams, the opportunistic photographer, were both strong in their portrayal of characters that were vital to the unfolding of the story.
The cast also had to rely on having solid improvisation skills when being questioned by members of the audience, and their commitment to characterisation during this part of the night was most impressive.
InsideOutside Theatre Company has put together an enjoyable interactive experience. Originally staged at the Elizabeth Picture Theatre before Covid-19 shutdowns, this production has upcoming performances that audiences will enjoy at NeverLand Theatre, North Lakes, and Fritzenburger, Petrie Terrace.