The Business of Murder
Richard Harris, well known and much published writer, has penned a pseudo nostalgic look back at the 70’s whodunit in this tense and twisting 3 header threaded by a Dostoevsky theme and asking one of the most basic questions, what would you do for revenge?.
Set in a flat in London, the play is very much in 2 halves; 1st part centres on Paul Opacic as Hallett, the sweeny-esque ‘sarf Londarn’ copper, a stereotypical Detective Sergeant portraying confidence bordering on the arrogance hewn from total belief that he is the law. Playing against him is Robert Gwilym as Stone, at first glance a bumbling, socially uncomfortable loner whose main intent seems to be the salvation of his ne’er seen wayward son, but who in reality could be just one wrong glance away from psychopathic fury.
Stone has contacted Hallett to help him in a bid to break his son away from the seedy side of life, yet, right from the start, there is a nagging doubt that things aren’t all that they seem. Despite appearing slow and dodderish, Stone occasionally has moments of total lucidity, almost prophetic in clarity and dangerously accurate in predicting how Hallett will react and through it all there sits an undercurrent of dislike towards the policeman bordering on despisement.
The second act introduces Dee played by Joanna Higson; Dee is a now famous playwright but was once a young journalist who used her real life reporting experience to fashion the plot lines and characters for her plays. Initially drawn to the flat by Stone’s attempt to get her to review his wife’s manuscript, we are quickly left in no doubt that there is far more to Stone’s motives.
The tension mounts as past interactions are revealed; Hallett was a young and determined DC who made his own judgements and then manufactured investigations to support them, Dee was not above twisting the truth if it gave a more dramatic end to her plays. The depth of Stone’s planning and manipulations then come to the fore and whilst for many the ending was as expected, there is no one who could honestly say the route taken to get there was signposted.
As a new play from the Middle Ground Theatre Company, this suffers from being over-wordy and would benefit from trimming; the pace fluctuates too much and there is a noticeable lull in the middle of both acts which tests the audience’s concentration. It is the brilliant acting of Opacic, Higson and the dangerously good Gwilym that rescues the plot and keeps minds from wandering but with a few nips & tucks this could be a great ‘modern’ murder mystery in keeping with the greats of the genre. Perhaps writer and director need to revisit the adage “less is more”.