Theatre Review – Prescription For Murder

Oct 16 2010 | By More

★★★☆☆  Rollicking whodunt 

Church Hill Theatre. October 2010
Review by Thom Dibdin

Packed with enough red herrings to keep a kingdom in kippers, Edinburgh People’s Theatre’s production of Norman Robbins’ rollicking whodunit rattles along at a great pace.

This is proper Midsomer Murders territory, set in the front room of the home of village medic Dr Richard Forth where his never-far-from-her-sickbed wife, Barbara, makes a disturbing discovery in the bookshelves when she’s tidying up with their Mrs Mop – and local busybody – Dorothy Livingstone.

The cast of Prescription For Murder. Pic: EPT.

It needs to rattle along, too, as this is also wordy stuff where the dialogue has to work hard to create all the set-ups and insinuations necessary for all those red herrings to come into play.

Mandy Black is strong as central character Barbara, whose illnesses seem to have arrived just after her whirlwind romance and marriage to the good doctor. She certainly plays the poorly wife well, although she doesn’t quite convince that she is wasting away in exactly the way that the script implies.

As the home help with an eye for a twitching curtain, Bev Wright is excellent, despite sporting a rather extraordinary silver-grey granny wig. She loiters around with completely natural intent and makes her body language comment as loudly as her lines in her thoughts on any visitors.

Those comments don’t come any louder than for Anne Mackenzie’s rich spinster Julia Moore, who has clearly transgressed on moral grounds by being single, available and very dressed up. Mackenzie puts in the performance of the evening in the role, at least for the first half. She rather falls away as the play goes on, but her initial snooty, sexy sophistication gets the role exactly as she should be.


Of course there are more grounds than the moral ones for suspecting Ms Moore of impropriety, as her associations with the doctor go further back than Barbara’s arrival. And don’t appear to be on a purely professional level, either.

The cast of Prescription For Murder. Pic: EPT.

It’s a fact which the raised-eyebrows of neighbours Mary and Allan Haigh also remark upon. Sally North and Gordon Braidwood do well to bring a bit of life to this drab, worthy couple who are marched on and off the stage rather more often than is seemly, in service of the plot.

North and Braidwood get the bickering of a long-married couple down well. Allan’s attempts to include an bowling anecdote in every conversation – and his consistent rebuttal by the bossy Mary – bring some of the biggest, and most knowing, laughs of the whole night.

In any whodunit worthy of likening itself to Midsomer Murders, which Robbins rather arrogantly does, there needs to be an unexpected stranger. And Will MacIver plays the role well, as the peculiar Eric Dawson who arrives with an unsettling piece of information about the Doctor’s past.

Amidst all these comings and goings and insinuations and arrangings of good works, poor old Dr Forth doesn’t get much of a look-in. Graham Bell rounds the cast off nicely in the role, harassed and shifty-looking by default but genial and friendly in his professional manner, he is just the sort of successful, well-loved local doctor you would expect.

It’s not a perfect production, but it is certainly an entertaining and more than serviceable one. The biggest problem, at least on the opening night, was the loss of concentration over the course of the piece leading to rather too many dropped lines for comfort.

The Scottish accents and the not-quite Home Counties setting don’t quite marry, either. But there again, Robbins has left a few slight but noticeable chinks in the chronology of the plot.

In whodunit terms, however, director Joan Hunter has ensured that this is perfectly done. The herrings are all as red as they need to be, the twists work well and the final revelation is as surprising as it should be.

Run continues to Saturday 16 October

Edinburgh People’s Theatre Website


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