Anybody for Murder, review: Devonshire Park Theatre, until Saturday, July 6

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Anyone for Tennis? If you enjoyed the Eastbourne tournament but are getting sated now with Wimbledon, Rumpus Theatre brings an alternative to the Devonshire Park Theatre this week: Anybody for Murder?

Tuesday’s opening night felt initially like a double-fault: within three minutes, one fluffed line, one late lighting cue and one props disaster. Were we headed for The Murder That Goes Wrong? Actually yes, but only in terms of the plot. The production recovered quite swiftly and then bowled along cheerfully.

The single set, in fifty shades of orange, is a villa on a Greek island, suitably remote for the plot that will unfold. The balcony opens on to the Med, but the interior has no fewer than five other doors and exits: always an ominous sign of farcical action to come…

Cheerful is a useful one-word epithet. Given the play’s title, no-one in the well-filled auditorium had come along expecting gravitas, or deep insights into the human condition. An improbable plot, a bunch of rather unlikely characters, and a lavish dressing of amusing lines. Summer theatre should always be like this.

At the centre of the action, John Goodrum’s Max is not fully convincing. If you are planning to murder your spouse for the insurance pay-off – and gentle Herald readers, I trust nothing so fiendish would ever cross your own minds – then your character would surely betray some hints of callous evil. Max is genial, under-powered and a bit of a drip. Goodrum himself directs – with Karen Henson, who plays stage wife Janet – and perhaps a more objective directing hand would have helped.

Victim Janet is amusingly hapless, while Max’s girlfriend and accomplice Suzy is brightly played by Anna Mitcham. Elderly inebriate neighbour Edgar (David Martin with an exaggerated drunken lurch and a hint of the Fawlty Towers Major) has a belated but important MacGuffin role.

The best acting entertainment comes from Susan Earnshaw and David Gilbrook as Mary and George Ticklewell, the perspiring and overdressed couple arriving off the ferry with news which will thwart Max’s plans.

By midway through Act Two, so many murder attempts have been botched or confounded that we start to wonder if things will end happily after all, with the six characters reconciled and sharing a Martini in the setting sun. But the plot goes once more round the island before – oops, I almost gave it away. Fun in the sun, and a pleasant if undemanding production.

Lesley Garrett and Faryl Smith join forces with Eastbourne choirs for charity concert. Click here to read more.

Eastbourne entertainment listings, Friday, June 28, to Thursday, July 4. Click here to read more.