MICF: Murder Village: An Improvised Whodunnit

by | Apr 1, 2024

By Anna Hayes

A full house packed into The Butterfly Club to see who the latest victim of ‘Murder Village’ was going to be. The show, running as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, has been treading the boards across Australia for the last few months and seems to have no intentions of slowing down anytime soon!

The show is an improvised ‘whodunnit’ based on audience participation and no, for those who have totally rational fears of being cornered by a troupe and forced to tell them their favourite Wiggle, there is no on the spot audience badgering.

Instead, all of the participation is done, via your phone, through a Google Form that directs the cast in who kills who, with what, and what burning clue helps our intrepid detective/novelist duo to solve the crime. I’m sure that was fun afterwards as groups discussed their selections – for my part, I picked the giveaway clue, while my fiancé was the one who came up with the murder weapon – which tells me that either I’m never making it down the aisle, or we’d make a cracking husband-and-wife detective team!

But back to the real action, the Murder Village ensemble, at any one time, has a huge cast of characters to choose from. On this occasion, we meet Detective Inspector Owen Gullet (David Massingham), Ms Artemis Martin (Louisa Fitzhardinge), Dame Petronella Citronella (Amberly Cull), Fedora Canatoni (Amanda Buckley), Laszlo Farhart (Jason Geary), and Isabella White (Esther Longhurst), all of whom live up to their whacky names and descriptions.

The action takes place on board the S.S. Snobbington and our characters unravel in weird and wonderful ways, thanks to the considerable skills of those playing them. On a number of occasions, I actually forgot that we were watching improv, such was the seamlessness of the character interactions. It actually made the moments of clear character breaks all the funnier as a result.

David Massingham, as the overworked one-man police force brings great sardonic wit to his role, particularly in his interactions with Fitzhardinge’s Artemis Martin who, in Jessica Fletcher fashion, always seems to be around when someone gets murdered.

Amberly Cull paints a very amusing picture of Petronella, the ‘noble’, a title so given for her skill in integrating rich families through her match-making skills, some of which have resulted in Isabella White’s presence on the boat – when she flippantly says her parents are miserable, Petronella delights over another successful match!

Amanda Buckley’s artist Fedora is a powerhouse a la the unsinkable Molly Brown, booming her way through every conversation and acting just a little too excited about her artistry, although the reveal of her painting of Petronella is spectacularly funny.

Finally, Jason Geary essentially channels Boris Johnson in his role as Lazslo Farhart, right down to the ancient curse muttering and blubbering that we might associate with him. His facial expressions and the gravitas of his voice (overplayed of course) make him a very comical figure.

His scenes of seduction (?) with Longhurst as Isabella are gut wrenchingly cheesy and, later, Isabella’s dilemma over whether she keeps a ring or not are a great display of physical acting, especially given that there are no actual props to play off of.

The improvised plot unravels too in a satisfactory way, with the characters inventing curiouser and curiouser methods of murder, retrieval of evidence, and much more.

It all combines to create a very entertaining evening of theatre which, as I’ve already said, is so slick that at times you would be forgiven for thinking that it was fully scripted.

It had all the best bits of things like Murder She Wrote, Endeavour, Agatha Christie, Knives Out and it even reminded me, in some ways of the podcast Victoriocity (if you haven’t checked it out, you should and you can thank me later). All of the tropes are poked at, many of the little things that we agonise over when we watch something in this genre are ironically deployed.

All in all, this was a tremendous combination and I would urge comedy lovers to get down to the Butterfly Club before Murder Village’s population is completely wiped out.

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