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Not A Clue - Stirling Theatre

Reviewed by Paul Treasure


Parody can be a difficult genre to pull off well. A truly successful parody will manage to keep itself within the confines and rules of the genre it is riffing on while managing to pull out a wide assortment of jokes. Not a Clue, the latest offering from Stirling Players, is definitely full of jokes, some witty, some saucy, some downright daft, that had this reviewer guffawing out loud on more than one occasion.

The play is set on a remote Scottish Isle, and the setting, built by David Wall and John Woolrych, and painted by Ursula Kotara, is wonderfully evocative, with plenty of stonework and gothic arched windows. The mood is enhanced further with John Woolrych’s lighting and Joe Teakle’s sound dramatically setting the mood at the start and end of each act and then subtly taking a step back to allow the performers their time.

The characters are all rip-offs of famous characters (or character types) within the larger world of detective fiction. Peter Boylen is totally charming as the convincingly French (and not at all Belgian) Tarot, his increasing exasperation as people continually misidentify him as another more famous detective is quite comical. Ellie Cutbush is delightfully assertive as the American crime writer Jessica Arrowsmith (Arrowsmith – get it? Perhaps my favourite piece of wordplay in the show), slightly more glamourous than her almost namesake, but very confident onstage.

Amanda Walker, as Maigret, took advantage of the marvellous opportunities for her character in the first half and played them with flair and vivacity. After some revelations about her character, the second half was not as kind to her character and gave her little opportunity to shine as bright. Peter O’Connor made a valiant effort of Tryhard McMorse, a mishmash of traditional Scottish stereotypes. Melissa Cruikshank gave us hilarious sex appeal and sophistication as the Phryne Fisheresque Lady Persephone Flimsey, possibly played a little too ditzy, but whether that was an acting choice or explicitly in the writing was hard to tell. Rounding out the assembled detectives was Janice Phillips as Delphinia Elgin-Marbles, giving a fantastic rendition of the trademark little old lady detective.

But it is the staff who truly managed to elevate their material. Michael Balmer as The Master and Janet Weston as the doddering housekeeper Agatha maintained very strong characters throughout with impeccable comic timing. Best of all perhaps when the action descends into an Absurdist trial, as Agatha drops her accent to become an assured defence attorney, and The Master takes on the roles of prosecuting attorney AND presiding judge at the same time, often arguing points of law and procedure against himself. This extended trial sequence is the high point of the play.

While the fast-paced jokes and breakneck humour carry the first half of the play, they cannot cover what may be a fatal flaw. A good parody should maintain the rules of the genre it is sending up, but make them funny. There is humour abounding within the script, but there is little to hang it on. The mystery makes very little sense. The second half is over in a flash and feels like it only ended because they ran out of jokes. There was no real denouement to the story, and the couple of twists at the end feel as though they are forced and arbitrary.

This is a hilarious production of a funny and potentially brilliant play. I would strongly encourage the author to put it in a drawer for a couple of years, then pull it out, give it a good rewrite and restage it.

Reviewer Note: Tickets for this review were provided by the theatre company.


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