At the back of a beautiful Victorian boozer in Angel, there’s a narrow staircase leading to one of the tiniest theatres I’ve ever seen. The Old Red Lion Theatre is miniature in its proportions, with each of its sixty seats offering prime views of the stage.
This month the stage is being more than filled by experimental fringe group the People Show and their latest offering, 121: The Detective Show. With a cast of just three, The Detective Show is a riot of energy and eccentricity. The plot focuses on the murder of an Agatha Christie tour guide and the possible suspects, but the nuances of the story are better seen than explained.
Each of the cast members play a range of characters, from the profound to the bizarre. Costume changes take place on stage and the careful addition and removal of wigs and jackets creates a host of intriguing personalities: from stereotyped Italian waiter, to trench coated detective, and plenty in-between. A particular highlight was a Poirot-styled detective, created through the inventive use of a hoover bag and expressed entirely through mime.
…Reverential comments are made about anachronistic use of props, poor accents and budgetary constraints…
The play is comically self aware, and at times brilliantly post-modern. A narrator splits his time between outlining scene changes, very meta comments around the making of the play itself and the purpose of the fourth wall. Reverential comments are made about anachronistic use of props, poor accents and budgetary constraints. Several scenes reference the presence of the audience, at times citing them as characters within a scene, rather than dismissing their presence.
It takes a great deal of talent to create a piece which feels wild and unstructured, but also tells a story and maintains humour and eccentricity. The accidental feel of the whole thing has been carefully crafted, and the cast and crew have a great deal of skill to keep it feeling fresh rather than completely contrived. It’s a very easy watch, with its short duration flying by.
…there’s a resounding feeling of everything falling into place…
The Detective Show manages to tread the line of being brilliantly chaotic while still accessible and easy to follow. With a duration of a little over an hour it manages to introduce a host of characters, portray a murder, follow a range of investigations and identify a culprit, without ever feeling like there is a particular plot or structure being adhered to. When the final dramatic reveal ends the show, there’s a resounding feeling of everything falling into place, in a way it never seemed would happen.
After the show the cast were drinking in the bar downstairs, the venue lending a sense of informality to the whole affair having broken down the barriers between audience and performers. It was a fun watch; self-mocking and original in a suitably intimate space.