Fans of Agatha Christie and murder mysteries will need to get themselves down to the Drayton Arms Theatre for this lively and hilarious play.

Murder, love affairs, chaos and laughter all lie at the centre of Peter Rae’s lively tribute to classic murder mysteries written by the likes of Agatha Christie and featuring all the twists and turns that you could possibly want or expect.

The chaos that unfolds begins with the terrified screams of Isabella the maid who loudly proclaims the death of Sir Cecil and soon fingers are being pointed at who has the strongest motive for murder, ‘investigated’ by Lord Sebastian Hardcastle. On top of this there are love affairs, that soon get complicated (not helped by the arrival of a ghost) and attempts to reach the deceased with the help of Lady Susan Bloom who is a self-proclaimed psychic – all leading to a thoroughly unpredictable (and perhaps ever so slightly) over the top ending.

Written by Peter Rae, the script gently (and sometimes naughtily) pokes fun of all those period drama style murder mysteries in delightful ways, as well as featuring all the typical stereotypical characters audiences have long come to expect. It has been tightly written and is immensely enjoyable from start to finish as it doesn’t take itself seriously and whisks the audience along on the journey of chaos effectively. There are several moments which particularly stand out – such as the confusion of letters being delivered to each of the love struck couples or the seance scene which is wonderfully played out. Elsewhere, I loved the way in which Christian Ballantyne and Peter Rae break the wall between the characters and the audience to add a sense of just how chaotic things are going to get.

Deftly directed by Helen Bang, the show moves with great pace and energy that barely gives the audience room to breathe – in a good way. To sustain that level of energy and commitment from all involved is extraordinary. Perhaps the second act on occasion gets a little too carried away and loses a little focus on the story, there is still no doubting that this is a show that has been designed to entertain and could be developed further for a bigger stage.

The cast all really work their socks off to ensure that the audience are thoroughly engaged with what is unfolding in front of them. Christian Ballantyne as Manning the Butler is a nice connection for the audience to have quietly mulling things over while highlighting his increasing exasperation with Peter Rae as Lord Sebastian Hardcastle – there is a lovely chemistry and banter between them that works nicely. Elsewhere, Helen Bang as Lady Susan Bloom is fabulous throughout, really going to town with her portrayal which brings to mind Madame Arcati from Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit – a role that I can see her doing justice to in the future. Duncan Wilkins as the dimwitted and permanently drunk Sir Percy provides the laughs effortlessly.

This is a show that has been completely designed not to take itself seriously and really works well because of it. If it all gets a bit much towards the end, just a little bit of work to tone it down and make the audience really appreciate the ending is all that is necessary to make it perfect.

By Emma Clarendon

An Absolute Farce continues to play at the Drayton Arms Theatre until the 11th March.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐