Review: MUSA Presents: Deadlier Things
By: Sam Connolly
I wasn’t sure how much to expect from Deadlier Things, an interactive murder mystery set in MUSA with a jazz backdrop, but suffice to say, the immersive event not only surpassed my expectations but actually turned out to be completely different than I had imagined. The evening was a triumph of immersive theatre, utterly engaging, but also funny and spectacular in equal measure.
On arrival, we were greeted with a glass of prosecco, and then led into the museum, which, although decoration was minimal, was given a twenties glow by the great effort that many of the guests had gone to rise to the occasion, and the live jazz band that played softly in the background. The cast mingled with the guests, and there was an excitable atmosphere.
The story was a classic murder mystery. A famous actress, Renee, is murdered at the opening of a taxidermy museum exhibition, “Deadlier Things,” apparently poisoned by her drink. The other guests each have their own motivations for her murder; the rival socialite Melanie Michaela, out of personal jealousy and dislike, the actor Hank Smythe, out of professional jealousy, the reporter, to create a story that would launch his career. Then there is her personal assistant Peggy, and the magician Max, hired as entertainment, with whom she has fallen in love, who might have their own reasons for Renee’s death, or even the butler himself, Thompson, who had the best means to commit the murder. The difference was that the audience were also participants, as guests at the exhibition, and it was this that made the evening shine.
The start was understandably a little shaky, partly as a result of the cast settling in to the environment, but also through a contrived scene in which the murder occurred first, then the protagonist, the butler, introduced the play, followed by a brief exchange with the murder victim that she would have to get up so the murder could be recreated. This brought a few titters, but it was most definitely when the evening was at its weakest. The “recreating the murder before the murder occurred” definitely works better on television or film, where the transition can be seamless. Introducing what was about to happen to the audience really only served to sever the illusion that the guests at the show were in fact guests at the exhibition, which was when the evening was at the strongest.
When more characters were introduced, the evening really took off. The portrayals were all convincing and genuinely funny, and once the characters started interacting and interviewing each other, and the audience, the shaky start was quickly forgotten. The dialogue between the characters was witty, fast-paced and elegantly timed; what triumphed most of all was the use of improvisation. The conception and portrayal of the characters was so strong that it was almost impossible to tell, and the pace was elegant, characters questioning each other in the hot-seat, then descending into mass argument before another plot point, such as the disappearance of the magician and Renee’s assistant, or the introduction of the cleaner, broke the tension. These group arguments were superb in creating an atmosphere; this didn’t feel like a play, it felt almost like we were present at a real-life whimsical murder in the twenties. Audience interaction was also superb, with characters making jokes based on the audience’s reactions, making the show feel really authentic. How convincing this was is evident from actually how simple the jokes were in afterthought. The reporter telling the audience that the death of Renee “is not a laughing matter” for example, the sort of jokes that just aren’t possible through another medium.
The jokes were as varied as they could be, with the characters’ exaggerated personalities. Hank, for example, is called out by Renee for his social climbing and utter arrogance (calling himself Smythe, instead of Smith), Melanie for her own self-importance, the immediate unrequited love between Max and Peggy coming to mind. But there was also puns and innuendo galore, and visual gags; rather than describing Max and Peggy having disappeared for a secret rendezvous, we were escorted by the actors, into the room to catch them in the act.
The ending was slightly disappointing; the curator murdering the star guest for the publicity seemed a bit too obvious for a murder-mystery but not quite ridiculous, outlandish or parodic for comedic intention. There was some clumsiness in switching rooms. Nor was the evening given a very definite ending, or wrapped up by the Butler, as it had begun. But these are minor quibbles for what was a spectacular and humorous show, making me very excited for the On the Rocks Festival next April.