The auditorium darkens. Sinister chords of music strike a note of fear. A voice speaks from behind the curtains. The voice of a murderer, disguised electronically, taunts the theatregoers of the crimes to come. They are in for an evening of killings, twists and red herrings. But who is the foul murderer? Can they guess whodunnit?
So begins the first in a season of classic thrillers at the Theatre Royal. Whodunnit is a comedy crime caper, penned by esteemed playwright Anthony Shaffer. That’s right, the guy who wrote the brilliantly funny Sleuth. Like that play, Whodunnit is part homage, part pastiche of all those books by Christie, Sayers, Chesterton et al. Invariably set in the thirties, the stories are full of loopy toffs, not to mention an unlikely detective, as eccentric as he/she is erudite. Probably an amateur too, or worse, a foreigner.
Six guests have been invited to a posh mansion by a conveniently missing hostess. Her husband, Silas Bazeby, is at home but has never met any of them before. A drunken butler completes the roll call of suspects. But one of the guests quickly distinguishes himself - as a blackmailer. Andrea Capodistriou is a slimy so-and-so with dirt on every single person in the house. As he works his way around the guest list the sub-plots thicken left, right and centre.
By the end of the Act One someone will be brutally murdered. After the intermission Inspector Bowden arrives to solve a mystery that, as he remarks, seems straight from the pages of detective fiction. But then there are surprises and a very big reveal. Nothing is what it seems to be and the only thing that turns out to be real is the deaths.
The production boasts Nicholas Briggs (best known as the voice of the Daleks) as Inspector Bowden and he gives a likeable performance. The rest of the cast attack their parts with gusto. The emphasis is on humour more than suspense, and there were certainly a few laughs among the audience. The set, which never changes, is perfectly designed and somewhat reminiscent of Cluedo.
Whodunnit lacks the bite or depth of Sleuth, nevertheless it is two hours of fun, which will give a good night out to any Marple or Poirot fans.
Whodunnit plays at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal from Monday 30 July to Saturday 4 August 2012.