Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy murder mystery
Alan Ayckbourn’s 1983 play is a ‘comedy murder mystery’, set in a faded Victorian folly, occupied by the dysfunctional and dependent Chalke family. In this fond parody of the genre, Mortimer Chalke is head of the family; sister Jocelyn a failed crime writer, brother Brinton, a failed artist with arrested development, and niece Amy a teenager whose main talent is eating. They live a quarrelsome life together with Jocelyn’s partner, a would-be private detective called Norris. The cat is put among the pigeons when Mortimer announces that he is changing his will to leave the family estate to a girl, Wendy Windwood, who came to him for piano lessons 20 years ago, and she is coming to spend the weekend. After near-misses with crashing cars and wardrobes, the murder is delayed until very late in the play, and the thrills come from wondering which of two possible victims will cop it, from which of five suspects.
The play has been described as ‘a gently mischievous delight’; not one of his weightier works but it conforms wickedly to almost all the conventions – preposterous plotting, slightly unreal, larger-than-life characters, even a stormy night with the wind rattling the latch. Almost everyone, even the amateur detective, has equal motivation and opportunity. Ayckbourn has written three potential endings, which will allow for different guilty parties on different nights. Who it will be can be decided by the cast, but perhaps we will let the audience decide!
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