REVIEW: Rehearsal for Murder – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

From the pen of Richard Levinson and William Link, best-known for their work on Columbo and Murder She Wrote, Rehearsal for Murder, the first production from the recently formed Classic Thriller Theatre Company, originally saw life as a 1982, Edgar Award-winning, made for TV mystery movie.

When his fiancée, movie actress Monica Welles is found dead from an apparent suicide after the opening night of her West End debut, playwright Alex Dennison is left devastated. On the first anniversary of her death, he gathers the original cast and crew in the same theatre, ostensibly for a reading of his new play, however, it soon appears that each scene has a particular significance for the people involved.

There’s always a place for a good old-fashioned theatrical murder mystery (as evidenced by the packed auditorium) and something hugely satisfying for an audience in trying to work out whodunnit, and while a hoary old theatrical staple, Levinson and Link’s play is raised above its contemporaries by a clever structure. Told as a series of flashbacks, this thriller flits between the past and presence with an admirable elegance.

There’s a commendable clarity to the storytelling and credit must go to director Roy Marsden, himself no stranger to murder mysteries, serving for 14 years as Detective Inspector Dalgleish in the ITV adaptations of PD James’ renowned crime novels, for keeping it taut throughout.

The cast are universally solid, Alex Ferns convinces as the distraught playwright Dennison, Susie Amy’s turn as the late Monica is nicely handled, and entertainment veteran Anita Harris, looking decidedly glamorous for her 74 years, turns in a well-judged performance as producer Bella Lamb. While the acting veers towards the heightened side of reality, the subject matter allows any quibbles to be easily forgiven.

There are many moments of levity to balance out the chills, and while a slow burn, it’s absorbing enough, sophisticated enough and well-acted enough to keep the interest levels high throughout. A hugely entertaining mystery and a nice change from musical theatre overload.

Runs until Saturday, 27 August 2016

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