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Phil Willmott

Review: MURDER FOR TWO at The Other Palace

Murder for Two The Other Palace, until recently the St James Theatre prior to a takeover by Andrew Lloyd Webber, has been re-conceived as a home for new and recent musicals.

Alongside the main auditorium there’s a smaller awkwardly configured but rather charming studio space where the audience are seated around a narrow platform stage of a similar size to most pub venues.

Murder for Two was the second musical I’ve seen in there and also the second to be a pastiche of the private eye genre. Except this one turned out not to be. But more of that later.

The piece is performed by two adorable young guys in the classic straight man/funny man combination. Ed MacArthur is tall and geeky-handsome and Jeremy Legat is shorter and mischievous. They throw themselves at the material with the enthusiasm of labrador puppies, daring the audience not to love them. They are both great singers and pianists and agreeable comedy performers and enact a genteel who-done-it, with songs, based on the traditional Agatha Christie structure.

The plot concerns the murder of a novelist at a surprise birthday party when a rooky detective (MacArthur) proves he’s worthy of promotion by interviewing all the suspects (Legat) and solving the crime whilst winning a girlfriend (Also Legat). Suspects include a not-so-grieving widow, a haughty ballerina, a bickering elderly couple and a scout troop.

Everything is played for laughs so it’s impossible to care about any of the characters or give a damn who solved the crime. But that’s not the point, we’re being invited to enjoy a spoof show.

The trouble is the writers want to spoof both who-done-its and musical theatre whilst director Luke Sheppard and designer Gabriella Slade seem to want to pastiche film noir private eye movies by staging the action on a rather handsome recreation of a Dashiell Hammett style office, with mid 20th century costume. The trouble is the material isn’t about that and embraces mobile phones and ghetto blasters.

Having three targets for pastiche feels really muddled and in the end none of it really hits its target. The 1940’s stuff is a distracting irrelevance, the detective story mockery is limp, inevitably, the original form is pretty much a parody of itself anyway and the musical theatre gags lack the bite of satirical shows like Forbidden Broadway.

So there’s a lot wrong with this show and the production but none the less I sat through it grinning like an idiot. Those boys are just so damn charming you want to hang out with them. You're so happy that they're so happy.

The show’s already popular with producers in the states who can present a musical whilst only having to pay two salaries. Critics who go to the theatre every night for free have also found it refreshing but I do wonder why a paying audience would opt to spend up to £30 to see two guys goofing around on a shelf when they could see a big West End show for the same money.