Morlington Mysteries – Til Death Do Us Part
28th June 2019

368 Theatre Company, St Leonards’ Showground

Reviewed by Andrew Myers

It’s Lady Penelope’s wedding day. She’s all set to marry her brother-in-law (yes, you read that right), when the proceedings are brutally interrupted by the murder of a nun, Sister Jeanette… ‘bashed on the bonce with a blunt instrument.’ Who could have done such a nefarious deed? And why? What was she doing there in the first place? And who are you? Indeed, who am I?

The premise of The Morlington Mysteries – the country’s only ‘murder mystery soap opera’ – is simple. A professional cast perform a new episode in a striking venue each month. During the intervals, members of the audience discuss the plot over dinner and compete to work out – or guess! – who ‘dunnit.’

The evening provided a rare opportunity for curious Hastings residents to see inside the Library of the Convent of the Holy Child in Magdalen Road, St Leonards. This was the perfect setting for the story, and it’s no surprise that the former convent has seen frequent use as a film location. I do wonder whether some more atmospheric lighting could be arranged for next time but it was great to see imaginative use being made of a previously abandoned space.

The brilliant script, by Brighton-based actor and writer Nigel Fairs, put a mischievous twist on all the familiar tropes of the genre. A bawdy affair in places, the innuendoes came thick, fast, and from all directions. Let’s face it, if a joke about trimming Lady Penelope’s bush is worth making once, it’s worth making a dozen times. 

But this was no pantomime. The best parody maintains a respect for its source material. The intricate storyline was rigorously plotted, characters delineated skilfully, and tension maintained, all within the classical unities of time, place and action. No mean feat to write a new one of these every month.

The first-rate cast met the demands of the script with effortless aplomb. Nigel Fairs, Abi Harris and Radley Mason – all with impressive CVs in TV, film and theatre – performed with tremendous pace and energy, playing multiple characters so effectively that I almost demanded a recount at the curtain call – surely there were more than three of them? 

With ‘audience participation’ sitting just below ‘nuclear winter’ on my personal list of horrors, you can imagine my dismay when I was press-ganged into playing one of the characters five minutes in. My performance mainly consisted of being verbally abused by aristocracy, but I feel I brought a quiet dignity to the part of Percival Plonker, Lady Penelope’s undergardener. Consider it my gift to theatre. 

Being a bear of very little brain, I must confess that I wasn’t quite able to hold all the complexities of the plot in my head at once. So out of a possible 64 points for picking up on all the clues, our team managed a heroic 1.5, and I have a feeling the half-point was awarded out of pity. 

Nevertheless, it’s all about the taking part, and a fabulous time was had by all. If you’re looking for an alternative way to celebrate a special occasion, go no further. And it looks like they’ll be back soon, so come along and give those little grey cells a workout.

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