Directed by Michael Heming
420 Kent Street, Sydney
Season: 22 August – 3 October
Bookings: www.genesiantheatre.com.au or 1300 237 217
Agatha Christie is the well-renowned master of murder mysteries, with her whodunit tales being transformed into an extensive list of plays and television programs. Genesian Theatre takes Christie’s play Go Back for Murder and presents it on stage, challenging the audience to nut out the mystery before Carla and solicitor Justin discover the truth of a crime committed 20 years prior.
The show opens with a meeting between solicitor Justin Fogg, played by David Hopkins, and protagonist Carla LaMarchant, played by Tamryn Liddel. Carla’s mother has recently died in custody, and before her death, penned a letter to Carla claiming her innocence of the crime she was accused – poisoning her husband Amyas 20 years ago. Carla is determined to ascertain the truth and enlists Justin’s aid, tracking down and interrogating the five people present at the crime.
The first act took the form of a series of interviews with the various individuals present at the crime. Whilst this may be an archetypal murder mystery style, the interview format presented a challenge for the actors to develop sufficient personal back-story for an authentic and believable performance. By nature, an interview in real life is an unnatural process, and when thrust onto the stage, can appear rather contrived. Some of the actors responded well to the challenge, notably Cassady Maddox playing Angela Warren and Denise Kitching playing Miss Williams, achieving compelling performances that served to engage the audience and heighten the intrigue.
When the second act shifted into the retelling of the events 20 years prior, the actor’s performances became more natural and less self-conscious. The audience was enabled to see the workings of the various relationships described in the first act take forth, which perhaps paralleled the growth of Carla’s knowledge of the circumstances. I appreciated the sweet fledgling romance that unfurled between Carla and Justin, illustrating the ability of Liddel and Hopkins to respond accordingly to each other’s performance. Use of the English accent was strong in the performances of Hopkins, Maddox and Kitching, as well as in the characterisation of Louis Emerson-Chase as Amyus, Dominique Purdue as Elsa and John-Paul Santucci as Philip. Some members of the cast lacked consistency, which was disappointing as this tended to draw from the believability of their performance.
The set design was initially sparse and was increasingly adorned as the plot progressed. In reading the director’s note, the core concept of the design was the more deeply the audience understood and learnt about Amyas, Carla’s father, who was an artist, the more the set was coloured in and brought to life. This seemed to align with the trajectory of the actor’s performances, becoming fuller and more fleshed out as we unearth more and more about the mystery. The introduction of Emerson-Chase as Amyas into the narrative shed the greatest amount of light in the world presented on stage, as Emerson-Chase gave a complex performance evidencing strong development of personal subtext.
Go Back for Murder engages with the characteristic elements of the great murder mystery genre, exposing clues piece by piece to bring the mystery to light. The play grapples with varying successes and shortcomings in trying to pinpoint the qualities of a gripping murder mystery, one in which entrances and perplexes the audience until revealing the truth at its climactic moment. In a society that craves fast-paced drama and sensational displays, Go Back for Murder has its work cut out, however the show’s ultimate success is in its exploration of relational dynamics that involve audiences on a different level.