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Midnight Murder at Hamlington Hall - Ensemble Theatre (NSW)

Written by Mark Kilmurry and Jamie Oxenbould. Directed by Mark Kilmurry.


Reviewed by Justin Clarke

Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli

Until 14th January, 2024


4.5 STARS


- Ensemble's final show of 2023 is an achingly funny night out at the theatre. Be sure to bring tissues -


If there is one style of theatre my heart beats the same rhythm to, it is that of the farce. My kindred spirits are London’s Mischief Theatre, the geniuses behind the Olivier Award winning and Tony nominated The Play That Goes Wrong, as well as Peter Pan Goes Wrong, A Comedy About a Bank Robbery and The Goes Wrong Show. There is something deeply enjoyable in the reckless abandonment of melancholic themes to present an evening of entertainment in which the main goal is to make you laugh. That’s it. With so much madness and anger happening in the world outside of the doors of a theatre, what’s so wrong with an audience longing to simply let go, to laugh with recognisable characters in farcical settings, to turn to the person next to them with a knowing eye or to see them wiping their tears of joy away?


This is what Ensemble Theatre’s last production of 2023 delivers and, if the audience was anything to go by, they were just as hungry for it.


Ensemble Theatre's Midnight Murder at Hamlington Hall. Images by Prudence Upton


It’s opening night for director-writer Shane Tweed’s (Sam O’Sullivan) new murder mystery, Midnight Murder at Hamlington Hall as part of the North Shore’s Middling Cove Players season. The amateur theatre company has been a staple in the area for some time and the audience are eagerly awaiting this new theatrical piece. However, seven of the company’s cast are down with the dreaded lurgy - with the cast dancing every which way around uttering the ‘C-word’.


So it’s up to the Players’ director and the only two remaining actors, along with the stage manager completing her community service hours, to band together, because as tradition states, the show must go on. But in a night full of absurd double characters and miscasting, missing props, and an impending 21st happening in the venue next door, can they manage to pull it off?


Let’s get the connections out of the way first, yes playwrights Mark Kilmurry and Jamie Oxenbould’s Midnight Murder at Hamlington Hall clearly borrows from Mischief Theatre’s TPTGW - the Agatha Christie inspired A Murder at Havisham Manor being the Cornley Polytechnic Society’s show that ultimately falls to pieces. It also boasts characters and a set up akin to Michael Frayn’s Noises Off. Therefore other reviewers may come to the conclusion that the premise is derivative or uninspired. Whilst I can understand their argument, the shaky foundations of originality give way to something ultimately genuine and much closer to the vein of an Australiana version than others in the same field.


As the show’s director, O’Sullivan is the embodiment of the theatre world’s creed, his words inspire and motivate the rest of the colourful characters that the show indeed must, and will, go on. “Why?” enquires Ariadne Sgouros’ stage manager, Karen, as bluntly as she can, which extracts one of many uproarious moments of laughter from the audience. Sgouros gives the show its stakes through each reaction her tough outer-shelled criminal can muster, keys jangling as she hustles about ensuring the stage doesn’t collapse.


A misplaced line, badly chosen times to undress, a dramatic pause as a character is forgotten - it's all achingly funny.

Eloise Snape’s Phillipa is one character any am dram member will recognise. Phillipa’s past roles include Fanny Brice (Funny Girl), Cosette (Les Miserables) and Blanche du Bois (A Streetcar Named Desire) despite mispronouncing each word in turn. Yep, she’s that member of the am dram society, and Snape has buckets of fun with her throughout.


Metaphorically chewing the scenery in each and every moment on stage, Oxenbould’s Barney takes the form of the veteran of the amateur dramatic society. His brush with fame has instilled in him blind faith and misplaced superiority. Oxenbould’s punchy line delivery and lightning paced quips of theatrical knowledge hold the show’s biggest laughs. Through Barney, Oxenbould will drain your eyes from the laughter he extracts from them.


Where the first act falls into a dangerous ‘peanut gallery’ feeling in its very North Sydney placed jokes and one liners, it makes up for in the breadcrumbs and foundations it creates for the second act. Kilmurry and Oxenbould’s writing relies purely on the timing from the actors and their stamina to perform each role in the play to tragically comic effect. Whereas TPTGW and Noises Off get a majority of their laughs and wow factor from physical mishaps and large set pieces, Hamlington Hall succeeds in the smaller moments of comedy. A misplaced line, badly chosen times to undress, a dramatic pause as a character is forgotten - it's all achingly funny.


It would be remiss of me not to mention the moment that life imitated art as the ushers entered at the start of the second act to inform us of some technical mishaps occurring, which the audience shrugged off as being part of the show echoing into the Ensemble space. But Kilmurry’s swift, “this isn’t actually scripted” reveal, for me, simply amplified the world we were already set up to inhabit.


Midnight Murder at Hamlington Hall will bear great resemblance to other such theatrical-set farce’s for those who are already fans of the genre, whether that annoys you or not is subjective. Ultimately however, it succeeds in doing the one thing it sets out to do, give you a bloody entertaining night at the theatre. For me, this was a refreshing taste in my mouth that made me laugh in a way I haven’t all year.

 

Playwrights

Mark Kilmurry

Jamie Oxenbould


Director

Mark Kilmurry


Assistant Director

Emma Canalese


Cast

Sam O'Sullivan

Jamie Oxenbould

Ariadne Sgouros

Eloise Snape


Set & Costume Designer

Simon Greer


Lighting Designer

Verity Hampson


Composer & Sound Designer

Daryl Wallis


Stage Manager

Erin Shaw


Assistant Stage Manager

Christopher Starnawski


Special Observer

Toby Blome


Costume Supervisor

Sara Kolijn


COMMISSIONED BY ENSEMBLE’S LITERARY FUND


01 Dec 2023 - 14 Jan 2024

2hrs 8mins (including interval)

Recommended for ages 14+

Wheelchair Accessible

Hearing Loop

Audio Described (selected dates)












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