THE MOURNMOOR MURDERS
BATS Theatre, Studio, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington
14/03/2019 - 18/03/2019
BATS Theatre, The Heyday Dome, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington
07/05/2019 - 11/05/2019
NZ International Comedy Festival 2019
A murder has taken place in the sleepy town of Mournmoor so the South Canterbury police have come to investigate which of Mournmoor’s colourful characters is the culprit.
Set in the fictional town of Mournmoor, a small idyllic town in South Canterbury (which may or may not be based entirely on Geraldine where Alice’s Dad lives), suspects include: farmers who love rugby, Digby from the high school pipe band, Aroha the yoga teacher who only takes two classes a week (how does she pay her bills!?), Jayne and Leisa co-artistic-directors and programme managers of the Mournmoor Arts Council who are preparing for their starring roles in the upcoming repertory production of Chicago (starring themselves of course), the quiet hermit who makes guns for international buyers, the Mayor and TAB owner Gerry, the community choir and their rivals the Ukulele Club who are preparing for UKEFEST, and obviously all the children.
The NZ Fringe season of The Mournmoor Murders is a development season of a new New Zealand comedy devised by The Mournmoor Arts Council with help from Alice May Connolly and Maria Williams.
Please Note: NZ Fringe tickets are no longer available for this show. To purchase tickets online go to BATS Theatre or call (04) 802 4175
BATS Theatre – The Studio, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington
Thursday 14 – Monday 18 March 2019
NZ International Comedy Festival 2019
BATS Theatre – The Heyday Dome
7 – 11 May 2019
Full Price $20
Group 6+ $16
A sparkling display of comic skills
Review by Tim Stevenson 08th May 2019
The serious business of The Mournmoor Murders is parody. The target zone is murder mysteries and parodies of murder mysteries but stretches to include just about any Kiwi small town stereotype which happens to wander near the firing range.
We get the usual genre ingredients: there’s a pair of sparring cops, suspects behaving suspiciously, a mounting pile of murdered bodies. Reputations are on the line; can ace detectives Cooper and Thompson (Alice May Connolly, Maria Williams) pull this one off?
There’s also a plot, although we don’t have to take this too seriously, any more than devisers Connolly and Williams seem to. Murders, a small South Canterbury town, colourful characters, detectives from out of town, sex and arts funding for motives – hold those in your mind and you’ve basically got it.
The Mournmoor Murders might not be a contender for the Best Plot of the Year Award for 2019 (if I’m wrong about that, I couldn’t be sorrier). It doesn’t need to be, as long as it stays within shouting distance of the target, and it hardly even needs to do that. The publicity material describes The Mournmoor Murders as an absurd comedy, which from the context may mean ‘we can put in pretty much anything we like as long as we think it’s funny,’ and that’s what Connolly and Williams do.
What Connolly and Williams think is funny includes just about every comic device going. If you can name it, you’ll probably see it. Accents, mannerisms, wordplay, physical comedy, running gags, sound gags. Dance parodies, musical parodies. Gags about death, sex, social pretensions, body image, milking cows, Lorde, Helen Clarke.
That’s all very well – but does it work for the audience? Judging by the reaction from the opening nighters, including your reviewer – yes, it does. Yes, partly because (as discussed previously) Connolly and Williams are highly inventive and they have a sharp sense for what makes effective comedy. But wait, there’s more…
They also have the technical skills to patch together what is basically a sequence of skits, and make the spectacle of two actors patching skits together funny to watch in its own right. Plus they have the acting range to deliver all those different comedy modes; the song and dance routines stand out in particular. Plus they work together brilliantly, playing off each other and the audience with the kind of relaxed confidence that comes from a ton of individual experience and (I’m guessing again) many hours of rehearsal.
The strengths of this piece are variety, a sure feel for the target genre, a full palette of comedic skills, a cornucopia of gags and full throttle commitment from the two performers. Subtlety and high polish tend to get trampled underfoot in the rush to deliver a lot of material at pace; this doesn’t seem a great loss. In fact, the odd rough edge is part of the humour, as exemplified by one of my favourite running gags, the one which involves Williams ‘losing’ body parts.
The offstage hero of the production is Sam Irwin on lights and sound. The Mournmoor Murders makes a lot of use of lighting and sound effects in its comic routines and to mark breaks, so the lighting and sound guy has to get it right, and Irwin does. Well done, that man.
Not all the humour works, and the devisers / performers seem to lose their certainty of touch right at the end. Factor that in, and you’ve still got a production that comes highly recommended for entertainment value and as a sparkling display of comic skills from two exceptional performers.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
A wealth of clever verbal humour complements the physical comedy
Review by Tim Stevenson 15th Mar 2019
Someone has been murdered in the little South Canterbury town of Mournmoor. Two hotshot detectives from the big smoke (aka Timaru) arrive to investigate. So that’s the starting premise; now let’s get straight on to some solid reasons why you might consider going to this show.
- You are, or could be, interested in attending a boisterous, fast-moving, homegrown comedy with a witty, quickfire script
- You’d like to see the two leads, Alice May Connolly and Maria Williams, demonstrating flair, energy, acting skill and versatility in diverse roles and comic modes
- You think that small town New Zealand can handle a moderate serving of satire without crumpling at the knees
- You consider that the murder mystery genre is due for a(nother) good sendup
- You’ve noted that this is a development season for the play but you think that any rough edges will just add to the interest.
And to demonstrate Theatreview’s core principle of lack of bias, here are some possible reasons why you might choose not to go to the show.
- You don’t have $16 to spare between now and 18 March (concession prices are available)
- The concept of smart city slickers satirising decent heartland folk nauseates you
- You have personal motives for not wanting to see Connolly and/or Williams doing well on stage
- Theatre just isn’t worth going to unless it is experimental in its technique, or sets out to rip away the social facade to reveal the despair and agony beneath the surface; or ideally, both
- You have made a solemn vow signed in your own heart’s blood not to smile or laugh between now and 18 March, inclusive
- Watching theatre that doesn’t have a big set and lots of props is like kissing a man without a moustache (Two actors dressed all in black in a blank white room? With minimal props? And you call that theatre?)
- Development season? You mean even the writers aren’t sure it’s finished? Get outta here.
You’ll be getting the picture by now – this is a very funny show with a heap of pace and a fresh gag every second. It’s satire at the lighter end of the scale which doesn’t take itself seriously and will try just about anything to keep the audience (and, I suspect, the writer/performers) amused.
Yes, the show is in its development season, which I understand is current theatre talk for, ‘”let’s throw it at the wall and see what sticks.” Not everything does stick – some of the multiple characters don’t quite come off, and there are jokes that just lie there panting, hoping for a quick and merciful death (there’s one about a lead that stays in my mind).
When the comedy does work – which it does most of the time, judging by the audience’s and my own reaction – it’s often inspired. Highlights for me are the musical/ dance numbers; hilarious choreography, beautifully coordinated between Connolly and Williams, and performed with gusto.
As mentioned, it’s a great script, with a wealth of clever verbal humour to complement the physical comedy. Could it benefit from just a bit more structure? Possibly; on the other hand, you wouldn’t want to stifle that bloodhound quest for the next funny bit.
I’ve probably complimented Connolly and Williams enough already, but I can’t resist mentioning that they show their professional chops in small, unobtrusive ways that are just plain cool. For instance, I love the way they physically signal that they are ‘off-line’ while still on stage. They show impressive confidence for a first night performance; now that they have confirmed that they’ve got a strong show with plenty of audience appeal, they might even consider dialling down the up-and-at-them energy and giving some of the jokes more space to breathe.
Sam Irwin on lights and sound hits all the cues bang on time, and also manages to come up to speed very fast and successfully in a brief cameo appearance.
The Mournmoor Murders is down for another season in May, as part of the 2019 NZ International Comedy Festival, and it will be interesting to see what parts of the show make the cut and which get changed on the way. I for one would be very happy to see it again (hint, hint, John).
A conversation after the show:
Me: Oops. I think I laughed louder than anyone else in the audience.
Mallory (who has come to the show with me): Not all the time.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Maria WILLIAMS March 21st, 2019
Thank you very much for the lovely review and thank you for coming, Tim.
Thank you everyone who came out to the show on what was an awful weekend. Arohanui.
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