Vertigo Theatre’s Murder in the Studio is a welcome return to live theatre

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What better way to ease back into live theatre than a radio play by the queen of crime, Agatha Christie. It a fitting start to Vertigo Theatre’s season, as during the 608 days of being dark, Vertigo put on mystery radio and streamed it for audiences.

Radio plays are generally intriguing and fascinating to watch, while the narrative unfolds in front of your eyes and you are able to see artists perform foley (the everyday sounds, created for the radio). Vertigo’s Murder in the Studio is comprised of three radio plays by Agatha Christie: Personal Call, Yellow Iris, and Butter in a Lordly Dish. On their own, as individual stories, the narratives of Christie’s mysteries are not outstanding. But Vertigo Theatre has talented artists on stage and co-directors to bring the best out of each story, which makes Murder in the Studio a must see.

The play open to the narrator (Elinor Holt) who comes down to the stage to listen to murder mystery hour on the old radio. She guides the audience, improvising as she goes along, pointing out certain members of the audience on opening night. She removes her mask and guides the audience into Christie’s first radio play of the evening.

Personal Call finds us at a cocktail party at James (Ari Rombough) and Pam (Kristen Padayas) Brent’s house. James receives a phone call that puts him on edge. We soon learn that he is receiving calls from a woman named Fay (Helen Knight) and starts to panic. Mark Bellamy, Tania Alvarado, and Neil Minor all round out the performance as train announcers, operators and performing the foley on stage.

The narrative of this first story is quite intriguing and keeps the audience’s attention. The actors slipping to the sides of the stage to make the foley is so engaging to watch. Holt is a gem, striking just the right balance between character and humour and Knight is solid as the mysterious woman on the phone. Padayas is a great guide to lead us through the mystery unfolding on stage.

Yellow Iris follows Christie’s famous inspector Hercule Poirot (Mark Bellamy) to a cabaret where he is trying to solve a murder mystery relating to an old case that he worked on years ago. With multiple characters on stage, Rombough playing two simultaneously without any costume changes, and Padayas and Holt singing the cabaret songs, this story actually lacks the tension of the previous play. The audience is dazzled by the songs and performances as Padayas and Holt are talented singers, but the actual heart of the mystery is a bit boring. Bellamy is charming as Poirot and does his best to carry the mystery.

Vertigo finished the evening with Butter in a Lordly Dish, which centers on defense lawyer Sir Luke Enderby (Minor) and his current flame Julia Keene (Knight). Luke seems to be constant with his relationships on the side, even though he is married. Lady Enderby (Holt) is aware of his infidelity but brushes it off, when discussing it with her friend Susan Warren (Padayas).

Knight is stellar as the seductress and Minor also shows his talent. It is because the actors shine in their roles that this last story is engaging and fun. Front and centre for fun is Rombough as the butler, Hayward. His portrayal of the quirky man is a bit of lightness in a dark story.

It is a first to see set design with a sense of humour, but the way Anton de Groot’s set changes, gives the plays charm. Lisa Floyd’s lighting design is beautiful and Sarah Uwadiae’s costume design tops everything off.

Co-directors Craig Hall and Kathryn Smith ensure that Murder in the Studio is a production that is better than the stories being presented. They really tap into the magic of live theatre.

Vertigo Theatre’s presentation of Murder in the Studio runs until December 18th. With limited capacity in the Vertigo Playhouse, this production is a wonderful way to ease back into live theatre. Welcome back.
Tickets and more information is available online.

Photo: Kristen Padayas, Neil Minor, Ari Rombough. Set by Anton de Groot, Costumes by Sarah Uwadiae, Lights by Lisa Floyd. Photo by Jaime Vedres

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