A distressed dame, a smoking gun and a case of mistaken identity all fall on the door step of a hardened Private Investigator. We take a trip back in time to the 1940s before Blurays and Netflix were the standard for entertainment, where the humble radio play reigned supreme. Mystery Radio Theatre is a series of spoofs on the mystery genre, all presented as a radio play. Complete with live sound effects, old-school hanging microphones and scripts for actors.
Mystery Radio Theatre has 3 shows that they play in rotation as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Whodiddendunnit (a spoof of Agatha Christie mysteries), The Adventures of Smuggler’s Cove (a spoof of Enid Blyton adventures) and Murder Me Again My Darling (a spoof of 1940s Private Eye thrillers).
The script by James Hazelden and Nicholas Rasche is fun and mysterious, with an obvious predilection for fun, while the mystery itself is cliche and not totally resolved. The charm comes from the comedy: the unexpected one-liners, the 1940s era style paranoia and the fact private eye Jake Steele lives in and operates his business out of his parents’ home.
The cast are a strong group of actors headed by the host of Mystery Mansion, played wonderfully by Frank Handrum who portrays a strangely comforting creep of a host. One part Vincent Price, one part Betty White. A man that you don’t mind being guided by, but you wouldn’t necessarily want to be left alone with.
Fleur Murphy as the twins (one guilty, one innocent), does a dynamite job switching between the two. Vaughn Rae as Jake Steel, private eye, has a good understanding of the convention of the ditzy detective one that would make Peter Sellars proud. The rest of the cast all perform well in their various roles, voices are all distinct and colourful.
A musical guest and word from the sponsor breaks up the tension. The musical guest, however, was out of place. The song about a clown that can’t find love was a standard comedy song with a few solid laughs but it didn’t carry the theme of the rest of the play. It didn’t belong with the play, and it seemed to detract from the depression era world they’ve crafted.
Although this is a review for Murder Me Again My Darling, I am in no doubt of the quality of the other two plays. You’re in good hands with the cast and the comedy is solid. The theme maybe a little underdeveloped and unrealised (a table of mysterious props is unused throughout the performance).
If you’re looking for a nail biting mystery you might be disappointed. If you set aside expectations you may find a whimsical and fresh look at the radio play. With a hefty load of laughs along the way you’ll be grinning from ear to ear from start to finish. ‘Take that Uncle Joe Stalin.’