Theatre review: Rehearsal For Murder, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

HAMLET says it, somewhere in the second act of Shakespeare’s best-loved tragedy.

HAMLET says it, somewhere in the second act of Shakespeare’s best-loved tragedy.

Rehearsal For Murder | Rating: *** | King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

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“The play’s the thing,” he declares, “wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King”; and this new show from Bill Kenwright’s Classic Thriller Theatre Company is apparently built around the same idea - that “guilty creatures” may be compelled to confess their crimes, by the sheer emotional pressure of seeing them re-enacted on stage.

So in this new adaptation by David Rogers of a screenplay by Murder She Wrote writers Richard Levinson and William Link, bereaved playwright Alex Dennison - whose fiancée and leading lady apparently committed suicide exactly a year ago - reassembles the cast of the play in which she was starring, in order to act out a series of newly-penned scenes in which he suggests that each of them had a motive for murder. The scene is the dark stage of the same West End theatre, one year on, and the atmosphere is both amusingly theatrical and very tense, as the ghost of the lovely Monica lurks in the shadows, stepping up to play her part in this play-within-a-play about her last hours.

The play ends with a twist in the tail so fierce that it almost makes the rest of the play redundant; and the script isn’t afraid of the odd well-turned theatrical cliche about ambitious ingenues, lustful old leading men, and money-grubbing producers. Yet given a range of rousing and witty performances from a cast of eleven, led by Robert Daws as the grief-stricken playwright and the lovely Susan Penhaligon as his gin-toping producer Bella, Roy Marsden’s production emerges as a clever, well-made and thoroughly enjoyable thriller, that plays elegantly with its theatrical setting, and with the pressures of show business, without ever losing sight of the key crime-thriller question - whodunnit, and why.

• King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, until Saturday27 March; Theatre Royal, Glasgow, 22-27 August