A Killer Party review – Jason Manford hosts cheery, tuneful murder mystery
Blackpool impresario Varthur McArthur has a doozy of an idea for a new show, a circus/seafaring whodunnit subtitled Death on the High Seas Trapeze. He assembles his cast for dinner, and – one power cut later – ends up dead, his face planted in a bowl of soup. Oh, the irony! But this lurid twist is merely an aperitif at A Killer Party, a cheerfully camp murder mystery musical for home viewing that made waves in the US last year. Recorded by an isolated cast, and spliced together ingeniously in Benji Sperring’s UK production, it is (judging by the first three of nine episodes) preposterous, barely coherent, likably silly and undeniably hummable.
The musical moments are its most memorable. The opening episode is all song, as we meet ex-detective Justine Case (Harriet Thorpe) writing her memoirs (that’s the framing device out of the way), then Jason Manford’s ringmaster Varthur introducing his concept and its motley creative team. “It’s my killer party, and I’ve never felt so alive,” he croons – famous last words, as it turns out. But who – as traffic-warden-turned-cop Justine must now discover – dunnit? Nominative determinists might plump for lead actor George Murderer (Cedric Neal). But gazumped diva Vivika Orsonwelles (Debbie Kurup) has a motive, and Shea Crescendo (Oscar Conlon-Morrey) – designer and trapeze artist, for some reason – was heard squabbling with Varthur on the eve of the killing.
Even as the production celebrates its own low-budget ludicrousness, it’s impressive how the choral numbers are marshalled, the isolated performers interact, and playful visual effects keep topping up the joke count. The non-singing moments soon pall, there is none of the suspense you might wish for in a whodunnit, and the euphoria of live musical theatre is unattainably beyond A Killer Party’s reach. However, all is redeemed by Jason Howland’s poppy score, Nathan Tysen’s deft lyrics (I liked Shea’s trapeze power ballad: “I hold on to the day I was told that I had to let go …”) and enjoyably arch performances all round.
If you can’t bear the wait for those real-world West End musicals looming on the horizon, A Killer Party could be just your ticket.
• Available at stream.theatre until 30 May.