Arriving at the Brunswick, we are invited into a room laden with actors milling around, and encouraged to sit at one of three large tables. The sounds of Abba ring out loudly in the background. Mama Mia (of pop star fame) has been murdered, and it is our job to work out which one of the nine suspects committed the crime.
The formula is simple. There are scenes where all of the actors give away a few clues here and there; next comes an opportunity to ask each character questions, and then we have to decide who the murderer might be.
I loved the way that all of the cast dedicated themselves to making the evening enjoyable for the audience, earnestly keeping the play moving along between them. Some of the characters particularly stood out as maintaining their persona all the way through. Julie Voo (Ny Wah Bottomley) was especially believable in the part of the slightly scary bodyguard.
But production values and simple theatricality were a little lacking. The evening was short on professional acting – it felt more like a bunch of mates having a good time, and hoping that others would too. Which, to be fair, we did: it was very high on entertainment value and captured the essence of community theatre in the true sense of the word.
I understand that this is a group in the early days of working with the public, but despite various forms of disguise, it was clear that some of the actors had scripts in their hands. I think the company is capable of more than that. And although I appreciate it is very difficult to get a noisy room full of people to be quiet, I found the strategy for silencing the room very jarring. If I’d heard the whistle and shouting one more time, there might have been another quite unexpected murder in the room.
There were also moments when I was longing for the cast to move away from the set questions, and be brave enough to interact more spontaneously with their willing audience. One of the best moments for me came when a member of the audience sneezed, and Mama Mia's doctor (Sue Patroopa) asked if she needed any medication. It was a priceless moment of pure improvisation, and I would have liked to have seen a bit more of that.
In the end, none of us got the murderer right, but it really didn't matter. The cast’s heartfelt motivation meant that I had a good time and, when I looked around me, it was clear that other people were too. When I arrived I was sat with a bunch of strangers, but such was the level of interaction encouraged that I left feeling like I had known them for much longer than just two hours. So the show could use more development and polish, but I made new friends along the way.