Crime comedy rips along at furious pace
A comedy crime thriller from Bath’s award-winning theatre company New Old Friends premieres in the city this week.
Crimes, Camera, Action is the sixth in the award-winning company’s successful series of cosy English crime capers.
But this latest show moves to the golden age of 1940s Hollywood. More gritty noir than Agatha Christie, it draws on the era of Dashiell Hammett (Sam Spade) or Raymond Chandler (Philip Marlowe).
The cast of characters features dames, mobsters and a private detective on the wrong side of the tracks.
The successful format follows that of previous Crimes productions with a cast of four playing all 50-odd characters, sometimes within the same scene.
Fast-moving clothes rails facilitate rapid costume changes, leading to a pun about them all going off the rails.
This is a play that in between the physical comedy is laden with verbal jokes, puns and innuendo.
A running gag is built around the tongue-tripping hilarity of trainee gumshoe Oliver who gets his words all
in a twist whenever he’s in the presence of a beautiful dame.
Feargus Woods Dunlop, also the show’s writer, plays Stan Shakespeare – self-styled as the only hard-boiled detective with a poet’s moniker.
He solves the mystery of the macabre self-stabbing of starlet Leigh
in a crazy film about cowboys and showgirls in space, along with three more more murders as the body count mounts.
Stan professes to hate the industry and yet, in what becomes a clever theatrical-film hybrid, he is both narrator and Hollywood director.
Mid-narrative stops are numerous as he bellows furious instructions about lighting, timing or sound effects – all deliberately comically mistimed.
Numerous Hollywood film tropes are referenced and it’s all very funny, although sometimes the rapid-fire dialogue in cod American accents makes it difficult to follow the narrative.
The second half rips along at even greater pace, opening with a surprise performance (no plot spoilers), and ending with the classic silent movie cliché of a damsel in distress saved by her handsome hero. Brilliantly done, it brought the house down.
The acting is superb as ever. Mark Collier gives a stand-out performance as the tongue-twisting Oliver among other parts, Kirsty Cox is hilarious as his potential girlfriend and as frenetic accountant Nellie Nibbsely, while Heather Westwell does diva as well as she does devious femme fatale.
At the finish the audience roared its approval of all this madcap mayhem, with a special cheer for an obviously pregnant Heather Westwell, wife of Feargus, who not only played in the show but wrote the script.
Mothballed since its brief outing at the Ustinov came to an abrupt end in March 2020 – due to ‘you know what’ as he put it – Crimes is back on track for a nationwide tour in 2022.
The company is also due to return to the Ustinov later this year with A Christmas Getaway.
Crimes, Camera, Action runs at the Theatre Royal Bath until Saturday (August 28). Call the box office on 01225 448844 or go online at www. theatreroyal.org.uk.