The Business of Murder
(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds on 2 March)

It could be argued that accomplished thriller writers are sometimes just a little too clever for their – and the audience’s – own good. Richard Harris is a good example. The Business of Murder is a three-actor, one-set play (always popular with theatre managements) with the time of the action firmly defined as the early 1980s, some 15 years after the death penalty had been abolished.

First on stage is a seen-it-all, done-it-all detective inspector called Hallett (Paul Opacic). The flat belongs to Stone (Robert Gwilym), a middle-aged shambles of a man who has asked the police to help his distraught son, a young man who has found himself on the wrong side of some particularly nasty drug dealers.

But he has apparently disappeared yet again, though he makes an abrupt call from a telephone box (this is, of course, all set in pre-mobile days). That afternoon Colin has apparently not re-appeared but a young, successful television dramatist calls (Joanna Higson as Dee). Now Stone seems to be a genial, though still flustering host; he has asked her to call at the behest of his invalid wife who is an admirer of her writing.

While Stone is out of the flat Hallett comes back and it’s soon clear that he and Dee are an item (he is already married and the father of sons). By this time we’ve grasped that not merely is nothing – and no body – what they initially appear to be but that psychological games are being played at an increasing rate and ultimately ferocious intensity.

As Stone Gwilym gives a mesmerising performance and dominates the action. Director-designer Michael Lunney of the Middle Ground Theatre Company ratchets up the tension from the start of the second scene right through to the end of the second act. He sets a hard act for his co-players to follow. Opacic has the easier role; he’s a type familiar from police dramas on and off the screen. Higson somehow doesn’t quite convey the essence of a girl who has had to work hard to establish herslf in an industry dominated by men.

The Business of Murder runs at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds until 7 March. It can also be seen at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff (9-14 March), the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford (21-25 April) and the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich (18-23 May).

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