This is the second play I’ve seen by the Phoenix Players but unlike Par for the Course this one is a drama, and from the previous play only Raman Aggarwal returns as a member of the cast, this time flexing his dramatic muscles. Prescription for Murder is by Norman Robbins with Sally Lovejoy sitting in the director’s chair. The play is being shown at the Swindon Arts Centre. Alongside Raman Aggarwal we have Emma Hartup, Clare Brown, Colin Wilkins, Margaret Price, Elly Beint and Mark Harris
Once again as this is an amateur dramatics production and so the action takes place in a single location, this time in the living room of Dr Richard Forth and his young wife Barbara with the day and time of the events happening over the course of several days.
So, things open with Barbara Forth (Hartup) and her cleaner Dorothy (Brown) cleaning the house of her tightly wound husband Dr Richard Forth (Wilkins). As the village doctor Dr Forth has a busy life, and is regularly called out by various patients who constantly need his attention. In addition his young wife has been suffering from a mysterious illness ever since they got married. Barbara and Dorothy chat as they clean the books on his bookshelf that contains various medical journals and 1st editions owned by Dr Forth.
Whilst being visited by friends Mary and Allan Haigh (Beint and Harris respectively) a man named Eric Dawson (Aggarwal) arrives and claims to be looking for his ex-girlfriend Grace Walker who apparently married a Dr Forth and moved down to Devon. He says he was in the area so thought he’d look her up. Barbara has no idea what he is talking about as her husband was married before but his first wife was not called Grace. Everyone present believes that Eric has just made a mistake, including Eric himself, and apologising for his error he leaves the house, soon afterwards Barbara finds an inscription from a woman named Grace in one of Richard’s books…
Meanwhile Richard is contending with the attention of a former lover Julia Moore (Price) who was not happy that Richard became infatuated and married Barbara instead of her. Suspicions around the Doctor escalate when Eric returns claiming that someone tried to run him over in a black car after he visited the house, he says that he looked into things and Grace mysteriously disappeared after getting engaged to Dr Forth. He warns Barbara that her husband may not be the man she thinks he is and she may be next on his hit list…
I have to say straight off the bat that I thought Colin Wilkins and Emma Hartup were both perfectly cast as Dr Forth and Barbara Forth. The difference in their ages and the very set in his ways doctor made it easy to believe that he could be using his medical expertise to kill her without drawing suspicion. In a bold move the actors even mention Dr Shipman, a family doctor that was also a real-life serial killer, and liken Dr Forth to possibly also being a serial killer. Wilkins’ portrayal of Dr Forth doesn’t make it hard for the audience to believe that he could be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. His controlling demeanour, his alleged affair with Julia, and the fact that he is insistent that his wife’s illness is all in her head. His behaviour seems to have a sinister edge to it and when the story of how his first wife died is told it seems obvious that he killed her.
But, things are not that black and white, Julia Moore is also clearly envious of the life Barbara has that she feels she should have had. So there is also an implication that perhaps Dr Forth is innocent and it is actually Julia who is behind the plot to kill off Barbara so that she can marry the Doctor herself.
I am a fan of Forensic Detectives, a show in which real-life cases were solved using forensic science. Why am I bringing this up you ask?? I’ll tell you…What was happening to Barbara seemed to have been lifted straight from one of those episodes, her constant health issues which seem to be linked to poisoning, and the fact that when someone else ate a cake meant for her they too get violently sick.
The ending was a complete surprise even for my mighty alien brain…and to say more would risk spoiling it so I shan’t say anything else.
Raman Aggarwal has shown that he can do a comedy role but how did he do with drama? I was impressed, as before he seemed initially a little nervous when he first appeared on stage but quickly found his feet and his confidence. He was the only one in the production that did not needed to be prompted on his next line, and the more productions I see him in, the more comfortable he seems to be on stage. His character, as the man who has made a bit of a fool of himself coming to the house of a stranger looking for his ex-girlfriend only to be told no one has ever heard of her, through his transition to a man afraid for his own life was very engaging and a highlight of the play.
However, as an amateur production there were naturally some issues and one of the biggest was the sheer volume of dialogue. There is A LOT of talking in this production, so much so that all of the main cast had to be prompted at one time or another. The thing is that some of the dialogue was completely unnecessary, a sequence in which Allen explained that Mary has fallen over after seeing Eric again after he seemingly went back to London is a good example of this. He explained that she’d grazed her knees and then in subsequent scenes with Mary she had bandages on her knees…what was the point of it?? Just say that Eric has been seen again, you don’t need a massive back story that says anything more than that. Plenty of the dialogue was like that so the play seems to be in dire need of an editor to trim some of the excess and unnecessary dialogue.
Now with this being a drama you’d not expect there to be any comedy moments but there were a couple, some intentional, others not intentional. A scene in which Allen (a rather small and unimposing fellow) threatened to throw Eric (a rather large figure by comparison) out of the house was met with laughter by the audience. This was obviously no fault of the cast but they were clearly a bit bewildered as to why we were all laughing, still, they quickly recovered their composure and carried on. Plus there was also a bloke on the row behind me that kept laughing a rather deep belly laugh at inappropriate moments who was in serious risk of disintegration as he was getting on my nerves.
The ending was also a little abrupt, after a slow boil the ending pay off is explained away rather quickly with the final moments of the play coming to a very quick conclusion. The play could have benefitted from a longer conclusion rather than the quick finish that we got here. Still, the twist was interesting and like I said was not one that I think anyone in the audience saw coming.
All in all I enjoyed the show, yes, there were some issues, yes, the dialogue could have been heavily cut down and the play would have lost nothing but as I have said before with amateur dramatics productions the sheer effort that the cast are putting in elevates the proceedings. It is easy to forgive little mistakes because this time I saw the play on opening night so the cast haven’t performed in front of an audience before and do not know what kind of reaction they are going to get.
I am giving Prescription for Murder a Thumbs Up, it is worth a watch and as I write this review (30/04/16) the show still has at least one more night so if you live in Swindon (or like me you can fly your spaceship to wherever you want) it is not too late to grab a ticket and check it out…the fact that it is not too late to see this play is also the reason I am posting this review a day earlier than I normally would have.
7/10 – A good show that kept the audience guessing right up until the end, yes it needed an editor but on the whole everyone did a great job and I will continue to keep my eye on the Phoenix Players.