The great thing about the Charles Vance Summer Rep Season is that it offers a rare opportunity to rummage through the now largely defunct repertoire of British stage thrillers.
This example, from 1976, is by Constance Cox. Well-known in the 1950s for her pioneering television adaptations of literary classics – she was the Andrew Davies of her day – she worked on legendary 1960s drama series The Forsyte Saga and was also an unlikely collaborator with War of the Worlds composer Jeff Wayne on his stage version of A Tale of Two Cities in 1969.
The Murder Game is a typical exercise in the thriller genre, in which people talk a lot and try to deflect the audience’s attention from how static the format is by constantly pouring themselves drinks.
The number of original murder plots is strictly limited and this one seems to owe a heavy debt to Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train. A creepy stranger turns up at the home of former racing driver turned motoring journalist Brian Hamilton, and discovers that Brian is about to be disinherited by his heiress wife because she has discovered he is having an affair.
The stranger offers the ideal solution – the wife’s removal by someone who has no traceable connection to the couple and demands no payment beyond the thrill of committing the perfect murder. But of course he goes on to insinuate himself into the life of Brian, whose cosy domestic idyll with his girlfriend is shattered – or is it?
Also flirting at the margins with homosexuality and transvestism, the play is a creaky period piece, but that’s the point. Steve Dineed as the thoroughly unlikable Brian and Marcus Webb as his smarmy tormenter give it reasonable substance, but just because it’s by a woman author doesn’t mean the two female characters are any less one-dimensional than they usually are in plays of this vintage.
Tuesday’s performance would have been more enjoyable if it hadn’t been accompanied throughout by an audible hum from the sound system.
Running time: Two hours, 20 minutes. Until Saturday.