The Watermill Theatre helped to pioneer the pocket chamber actor-musician show in the UK. Director John Doyle staged Cabaret here with just eight actors in 1998, then went on to produce shows such as Sweeney Todd and Mack and Mabel, shrink-wrapping these large shows while amplifying their power.
As the theatre launches its 50th anniversary season, it now stages the UK premiere of a show that was deliberately conceived and written for the small-scale but thinks big instead.
Murder for Two is a musical murder mystery story with just two actors: one playing a detective, the other the 12 suspects of a murder that the former has been called to investigate, all the while both taking turns on the solitary onstage piano – sometimes simultaneously – to accompany themselves.
Like Kander and Ebb’s Curtains, a backstage musical murder mystery that premiered on Broadway in 2007, it’s an (all-too) knowing part-pastiche, part- affectionate tribute to its genre, as a psychiatrist turned novelist is bumped off at a birthday party being thrown in his honour. All the guests – from his wife to criminologist niece and even the visiting detective himself – are suspects.
It’s inconsequential stuff, and depends on the virtuosity of its performers. and the indulgence of its audience, to work.
Fortunately the former deliver and the latter warm to it. With the highly engaging Ed MacArthur as Officer Marcus and the incredibly hard-working Jeremy Legat as all the suspects, the result is frequently frenetic and occasionally hilarious, too.