We’re all familiar with the elements of the classic ‘whodunit’ – a murder victim; several possible suspects each with their own motives for committing the crime, and at the centre, a detective who successfully eradicates all the red herrings and announces to the company in the denouement just who ‘did it’ and why. Add in some strange offstage noises and a thunder storm and – well, you get the idea.
Ayckbourn has taken this formula and shaken it up – quite a lot. For the whole of Act 1 there are at least two possible victims, and the murder itself does not happen until just before the interval. By then we are familiar with the characters and the setting, and the audience are then asked to choose their murderer, thus, it could be said, doing the detective’s work for him.
And the detective, would-be private investigator Norris Honeywell, portrayed with verve by Nick Turvey, certainly needs some help – Poirot he ain’t! Even with the ‘help’ of the audience, his efforts to identify the culprit in Act 2 are.. well, interesting.
Norris is not the only failure in the house – far from it. He is living there on sufferance, only because of his partner Jocelyn, played by Nick’s real life wife Chris Turvey. Jocelyn is a failed writer who explains that her mother had artistic aspirations for all her three children, which has resulted in each of them trying – and failing – in different artistic disciplines. This has not stopped her having similar aspirations for her own daughter Amy (a beautifully sullen and angry Ellen Lamplough), who has responded by evading her dance and drama classes in favour of spending her time…eating.
The cast of It Could Be Any One Of Us: left to right: John Abraham, Maria Wilkinson, Nick Turvey, Chris Turvey, Michael Arnell and Ellen Lamplough
The house is owned by Jocelyn’s elder brother Mortimer. Michael Arnell, in the role of Mortimer, owns not only the house but the stage, every time he walks on: he dominates his family, as well he might, since the estate has been left to him to bequeath ‘as he thinks fit’, and he announces therefore that on his death the whole family will be disinherited in favour of an ex-pupil of his who he hasn’t seen for twenty years. Cue classic whodunit motivational set up.
The final member of the household is Mortimer and Jocelyn’s younger brother Brinton, whose particular failure is painting – and growing up. John Abraham’s Brinton is a comic delight, from his tantrum over his studio’s leaking roof to his childish infatuation with Wendy, the ex-pupil heiress who he remembers watching during her lessons and who has been the sole subject of his art ever since, and his confused reactions to the present day Wendy.
For Wendy is no longer the nubile young girl Brinton remembers – she is now a middle aged dowdy housewife with three children and a pet shop, whose life’s ambition is to breed King Charles spaniels. Maria Wilkinson, as Wendy, almost steals the show with her perfect portrayal of sheer down at heel ordinariness against the other eccentric characters, and a highlight of the play is her nervously singing nursery rhymes while Norris investigates apparent noises in the house.
A mention needs to be made here of the superb set which captures the once wealthy and now fading fortunes of the Chalke family, the costumes which help us identify the characters, from Mortimer’s cravat and Jocelyn’s arty skirts to Amy’s tracksuit. The sound and lighting, often forgotten, are also timed perfectly and add hugely to the atmosphere, as does the incidental music which was specifically composed for the Dick & Lottie Theatre Company production of the show in 2017.
By the end of the play Norris thinks he knows the culprit – but whether he agrees with the audience, who are in charge of the choice of one of three possible endings – and indeed, who the murderer is (and the victim!) are all things you will have to see the play to find out – so come along for an entertaining evening!
It Could Be Any One Of Us is at the Apollo Theatre from Tuesday 4th to Saturday 8th September; tickets available at http://www.apollo-theatre.org.uk/it-could-be-any-one-of-us/ or on the door.