A lively, witty improv show with a deathly turn of phrase
Improv can go one of two ways: it can be toe-curlingly awkward, or skilfully quick-witted and pacey.
Murder, She Didn’t Write, brought to us by Bristol-based improve specialists, Degrees of Error, rifts off Agatha Christie murder tropes, including clipped accents, a butler called Jeeves, dubious motives and dastardly morals.
The performance is completely unplanned and unscripted with the audience – to a degree – playing scriptwriter and director.
The scenario is chosen by a shortlist compiled from the audience’s shout-outs, so on the afternoon we were there, the murder setting is a hen night – with a twist. For this is no ordinary hen night – and not just because it’s set in England in the 1920s when hen dos were as common as mobile phones: this one features actual hens (or rather imaginary actual hens). Meanwhile, the murder weapon is a very unlikely wet tea towel.
The audience member who is lucky enough – or perhaps unlucky, depending on your approach to participation – to catch the deerstalker hat thrown into the crowd by the inspector-come-narrator becomes Jerkins – the detective’s rather rubbish sidekick, who will help to solve The Case of the Wet Tea Towel.
The Cluedo-style colour coded suspects are a nod to another classic of the very English murder-genre and include Agatha Pink and Scarlet Scarlet. Then there’s bride-to-be Violet Violet, a well-known chicken scientist (obviously) who will found dead in the chicken coop, surrounded by the plucked corpses of her beloved hens.
The hen setting is ripe for innuendo, especially in the first few scenes as the actors find their feet among the quagmire of scenarios and results in an over-reliance on cock jokes.
But the actors soon inhabit their flamboyant characters and the action moves along at a rapid tempo, reducing sections of the audience – and the inspector – to eye-watering levels.
There were obvious plot holes, and some scenes fell flatter than others, but it gathers momentum as the story develops, held together by wit and clever riffing. The length of each scene was wittily dictated by the lighting technician who – along with the musical accompaniment – often drove the punch lines. There were some great running gags and its sharp denouement is plausible thanks to some clever detective work by the stage-left sitting inspector.