Tea Tree Players
Tea Tree Players Theatre
Until 15 Feb 2020

Review by Lance Jones

Everyone loves a good murder mystery. The classic theme is an oldie but a goodie; old house full of guests each of a quirky and provocatively suspicious nature, all called together for the reading of a will. Murder ensues and the enigmatic Private Detective calls everyone together to solve the mystery with the great “whodunnit” reveal at the end. You know the drill.

Yet just when you think it’s safe to start saying “the butler did it”, along comes a twist. Then another, and another and yet another until you feel like you’ve just driven the Great Ocean Road and back again. “Any Number Can Die” takes the predictable Agatha Christie-esque genre and delivers so much more. Strap yourself in, this aint no run-of -the-mill murder mystery.

The audience is greeted by a wonderfully authentic 1920s set, lovingly created by director Theresa (Lilly) Dolman. Robert Andrews and Mike Phillips manage the lighting brilliantly, complete with candles, lightning and the all-important blackouts when the “power goes out”, a staple for such genres where we await the murderer to make a move under the archetypal cover of darkness. The two technical aspects of the play combine well with some set surprises I won’t mention due to the need to avoid a “spoiler”; so let’s just say all things are not necessarily as they seem to be at first glance. It was all done very cleverly indeed.

The cast deliver the often corny but effectively hilarious dialogue with comic timing and farcical aplomb. The artistically clumsy entrance of Harrison Morris’s Butler character “Edgars” was very funny and drew a healthy chuckle from the bleachers, as did Chris Galipo’s “Zenia” who channeled shades of Young Frankenstein’s “Frau Blucher”, albeit with owls instead of horses. Tina Hall and Tim Cousins made the perfect pair of preppy gold-digging twits while Lachlan Blackwell played the gormless prat Carter Forstman so well, that you just couldn’t help but “hate” him.

Daniel Toy did a splendid job playing the square jawed stereotypical hero Jack Regent while Annika Barry was wonderful as Jack’s sickeningly sweet love interest Sally. She even managed to play the appropriately out of tune piano and sing along to it. I was a particular fan of the “leg lift” during the kiss with Jack. Nice touch. Adrian Heness expertly played the will-reading lawyer Roger Masters in a style more reminiscent of an undertaker than a lawyer. By the time the play was through, they certainly needed both.

Accolades go to the two main protagonists: Rick Mills as the classic deer-stalker-wearing bumbling PI type and his foil and eventual partner-in-crime-solving Ernestine Wintergreen, played by Lesley Main. It was certainly a pleasure to get two clever clue-seeking detectives for the price of one, and both played off each other well, swapping the comic and straight roles back and forth seamlessly throughout.

There were some technical issues that were a minor irritant. At one crucial moment a table and telephone blocked the view of a number of the audience to some intricate hand shenanigans crucial to the plot. One could hear them discreetly asking their theatre comrades next to them what was happening to cause those on the other side of the theatre to laugh so much. The accents at times drifted to the odd Australian pronunciation, and opening night jitters may have caused a few stumbled lines every now and then. To be very fussy indeed, Zenia’s “Haitian” accent was more reminiscent of Place Clichy in Paris than the Tabarre district of Port-au-Prince. The opening and closing sequences of “modern times” book-ending the 1920s scenario was a curious plot device that seemed to serve no purpose to the storyline. Steven Brown and Kaila Barton played the modern day "Chuck" and "Judy" at both ends of the story well, but their efforts seemed ultimately beside the point.

Yet, these very few deficiencies were swept away by a well-rehearsed and directed cast delivering a clever and engaging dialogue that was fast paced and intelligently delivered. Sight gags were in abundance, as was the well timed and cleverly choreographed movements of the entire cast as a finely tuned ensemble. At one stage it seemed we were going to visit Narnia, with everyone disappearing into a very small space one after the other. It even had shades of “panto”, with some of the audience whispering “he’s behind you” amusingly to themselves.

Yes, this play pushed all the right buttons. An engaging cast, hilarious dialogue, comic timing and clever directing all in the confines of arguably Adelaide’s cutest theatre. The Tea Tree Players have delivered a wonderful piece of theatre that will not disappoint.