Review: The Murderer In The Mirror. Nottingham Theatre Royal.

Father BrownThe Murderer in the Mirror adapted by John Goodrum

(Based on the mysteries of G.K. Chesterton)

The Colin McIntyre Classic Thriller Season 2021

Tabs Production and Nottingham Theatre Royal

Tuesday 29th June – Saturday 3rd July

There is something very comforting about a classic thriller, notwithstanding the body count and the villainous intent. The audience arrives knowing what to expect; principally, a whodunit, a ‘whydunit’, and red herrings galore. In this respect, Father Brown – The Murderer in the Mirror does not disappoint.

Thisis the second in a series of four plays being performed as part of the Colin McIntyre Classic Thriller Season 2021. The Rumpus Theatre Company cast comprises of John Lyons (Father Brown), Lara Lemon (Susie Sands), Karen Henson (Miriam Mandeville), Christopher Brookes (Norman Knight), David Gilbrook (Sam) and John Goodrum (Mundon Mandeville). The latter is also director and designer.

The action takes place in the West End theatre where Mundon Mandeville is launching his latest play, ‘The Unholy Triangle’. Father Brown himself informs us that the year in question is 1927. Opening night and theatre impresario, Mandeville, is starting to panic as his leading lady is refusing to leave her dressing room and does not appear to know her lines. Cue the discerning Father Brown, dispenser of wisdom, philosophy, and plain common sense.

Naturally, a murder occurs, and it is left to the eponymous priest to ascertain who had the motive and the means. Lyons plays Father Brown as a calming, composed presence. He is sanguine under pressure, ever-observant and always unruffled. As he says himself, ‘I’m just keeping an eye on things.’ The ensemble cast work well together and it would be remiss to pick out one performer, as this is clearly a team effort. Given the source material, there could be the danger of slipping into parody, but this never happens. In addition, the milieu of the piece demands clear diction, and it is a pleasure to hear the lines delivered with such pleasing enunciation.

The setting of a theatre (within a theatre) also works well. It provides the perfect ‘closed circle’ often necessitated by ‘Golden Age’ detective stories, in which characters are confined or restricted and begin psychologically to unravel. We soon find that the gentle humour at the beginning of the play gives way to suspicion and doubt. As Father Brown states on more than one occasion, ‘Memories are notoriously unreliable.’ Their costumes may be immaculate, but the lives of the characters are not. The clever script makes it clear that theatre is in the business of illusion. More than one character has money problems and this is manifestly a world of ‘smoke and mirrors’.

In an echo of the present pandemic, reference is made to the disruptive influence of the ‘Spanish flu’ (1918) and its financial effect on theatres. With this in mind, it is immensely reassuring to see theatregoers coming back to see treasured favourites. The Father Brown stories first appeared in 1910 and given the strength of this production will remain appealing for a good while yet.  

Running time – 90 minutes (no interval)


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