We’ve seen the sign above the bar a few times. An improvised comedy murder mystery. Sure, the first bit and the second bit make sense, but what will they look like when they’re mashed together?
This is Murder Inc., who bring their combo of quick wit and sudden death to The Ape & Apple twice a month. The place is packed. We’re about to see why.
The theme of tonight’s show is ‘Die School Reunion’. Essentially, we’re at a high school reunion and the grim spectre of death could strike at any moment. Provided that moment occurs before the interval.
We have six performers, each of whom is assigned a stereotypical ‘high school’ character from ideas shouted out by the audience. As this is the first of two shows, we’re not going to give you any clues, but you can guess the sort of thing that was trotted out.
We’re also asked to provide a series of settings for each scene. Each performer then chooses a piece of paper at random, which tells them whether they are the victim, the murderer or an innocent bystander.
That’s the admin done, so off we go. The characters interact in various two-person scenes, each revealing tantalising backstory and relationship info. It’s pacy and packed with proper belly laughs, as the satisfaction of a smart comeback is brought to life on stage. It’s a lot of fun!
When the characters are all brought together for a scene, you sense the plot is about to thicken. Sure enough, someone keels over. It’s now down to us to guess who’s responsible during the break.
We split into two teams so we can have two guesses (and therefore two shots at some free merch). Trying to seriously dissect what we’ve just seen isn’t easy, but we earnestly discuss motives as if this were an episode of Broadchurch. Our competitive streak is brought out and so, incidentally, is some always welcome free pizza.
The second half gets underway and an important question is answered straight away. Nope, it’s not who did the murder. Not yet. First we want to know what happens to the performer who ‘died’ in the first half. Can they take the rest of the night off?
It turns out they can’t, as we now flit between reaction to the untimely death and flashbacks that uncover as yet unseen links between the characters. This is great, as it provides plenty of opportunity for some lovely callbacks. We get to laugh and award ourselves points for paying attention.
As you’d expect, it all unravels to a Poirot-esque conclusion. Secrets are revealed and wild accusations flung around. All is not what it seems and ultimately, the killer is apprehended to panto gasps all round.
While improv done well is always a joy, it’s extra cool watching it with a single narrative running from start to finish. It’s hilarious, clever and the plot genuinely holds together. Dying on stage would normally be considered a failure. In this case, it’s a triumph.
Oh, and as it turns out, one of us did guess the killer correctly. He’s not writing this though, so if mild gloating is your thing, you’ll have to head over to Facebook.
Murder Inc. can be found at The Ape & Apple on the first and second Thursday of every month. Each month’s theme is chosen with an audience poll, so check out their Facebook page to get involved with that and find details of upcoming shows.