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The Lichfield Players’ latest offering is about one of those Cluedo-type detective thrillers that have been the staple of West End and regional theatres for ever, plus of course, amateur companies nationwide. But this isn’t actually the play itself – this is about the rehearsals for a play featuring a director, some actors, good, bad or truly terrible, even the stage staff. The play’s brilliantly comic action reveals how the actors’ off-stage personalities deal with the rigours of rehearsals, professional intrigues, jockeying for position, love affairs, infighting, not to mention sabotaging other actors’ performances. The result is laugh-out-loud funny as director Phil Shaw makes hay with a script showing exactly what we’ve always suspected goes on in the theatre when audiences aren’t looking. He’s skilfully abetted here by a well-seasoned cast who cope effortlessly with the mayhem. Ian Davies heroically resists the temptation to camp up his role as the play’s pretentious Eastern European director Boris Smolensky whose first concern turns out to be himself, and in the process becomes eerily convincing. James Bentley is hilariously awful struggling with the role of young military-type Major Rodney Pirbright, while Lucy Bishop as the charming ingénue Lady Virginia Cholmondley is a marvellous parody of the upper class young things so beloved of pre-war “proper” plays. Jan Goodwin as an ageing star exactly catches the wiles of a bitchy ex-soap actress come down a peg or two, while Gina Martin reaches an all-time high as a grand old trouper playing a cook/charlady. The sequence where she’s told to “age” her part is unforgettably funny. Rachel Slade is touchingly convincing as a stationary parlour maid with no lines told to liven up her performances, while Adrian Venables makes the part of a dypsomaniac old bore with barely a smattering of talent look horribly convincing. But there‘s always a star and here it’s Sarah Stanley whose superbly-judged portrait of a stage manager hanging onto real life just by the tips of her fingers is marvellous – she just gets better and better. Together this wonderfully chameleon-like multi-tasking cast forge joyfully on through a delightfully funny series of misunderstandings and disasters, delivering laugh after laugh right up until the very end. An elegant tour de force of a production. Go. Murder in Play runs at the Garrick until May 23. For tickets phone the box office on 01543 412141 or go online at www.lichfieldgarrick.com.

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