Reflection: New Old Friends’ Crimes Under the Sun

Crimes Under the Sun

Cleverly crafted, lovingly teasing take on Agatha Christie

A femme fatale has fallen victim to a killer in the English Riviera, a host of suspects with a whole host of motives happen to be holidaying in the same spot, and detective Artemis Arinae is looking for anything to avoid writing her memoirs… so, whodunnit? Crimes Under the Sun is New Old Friends’ cleverly crafted, lovingly teasing take on Agatha Christie and everyone’s favourite classic crime capers, and though not the perfect crime, it is perfectly entertaining and, in places, criminally funny.

A cast of four play fourteen characters, and their charmingly farcical performances are the crux of the piece: as Artemis, Jill Myers is the most modest of Miss Marples, fusing the frolics together with an ongoing monologue in an outrageous French accent while taking no shit from some chauvinist fellows who assume that a successful inspector must be a man. Feargus Woods Dunlop’s slick script has many a mocking modern-day allusion and is littered with alliterative quips, although some of them are quipped a little too quickly to keep us following closely, but his characters are well-drawn and wonderfully comic. Woods Dunlop plays three of the fourteen: a nervous voyager, a (too) passionate priest, and a mild-mannered, gentlemanly Major with a mysterious past, with the latter’s reports of some very British brawls in a West End pub brilliantly performed.

Other than Artemis, all other ladies – from an American diver to a posh Miss to a meddlesome maid – as well as three moustached, monocled, maladroit policemen in the most meta- and physically funny performance, are played by Heather Westwell, although one of her funniest moments comes in a hilariously heavy-handed set change dressed as a dusting fifties housewife. The many-accented Jonny McClean has some of the most comic moments, from the sleazy, drawling Mr Redwood whose ‘like a wild animal’ similes often go awry, to the words lost in translation between Artemis and his worrying, hand-wringing hotelier, to the ridiculous reveal of Lucien, the Major’s vengeful son.

Crimes Under the Sun plays with its own impracticality: with all the multi-rolling, it can get complicated, with wires crossed and waters muddied, but the performance manages to make it part of the act in a frantic finale with all the suspects on the stage at once and only Connie Watson’s clever, minimal costumes keeping some measure of sense. There’s little room for error, but even when things go slightly wrong, or feel overlong or out of place, like a summarising song-and-dance dressed in stripy swimming suits that floats unconvincingly somewhere in Act I, we’re still happily erring on the side of comedy, and it’s still the fun-filled homage to Agatha Christie and classic crime we were promised.

Ustinov Studio, Theatre Royal Bath, 20th February 2018, invited to review (thank you Flavia & Rosie at Mobius!), cast: Jill Myers, Jonny McClean, Heather Westwell & Feargus Woods Dunlop, click for link to Crimes Under the Sun

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