Cirencester Rocks Review: Murder for Two at the Barn Theatre

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Cirencester Rocks Review: Murder for Two at the Barn Theatre

Murder for Two is hard to pin down: it’s a musical, a comedy, a double act and a murder mystery, with some virtuoso piano playing thrown in for good measure. The fact that it all works together is testament to the skill of the young performers.

The play is set in classic murder mystery territory, a house party featuring an array of stock characters: among them a kindly doctor, a French femme fatale, an impressionable young student, a downtrodden, slightly dotty wife. Everyone has gathered for a surprise party to celebrate famous novelist Arthur Whitney’s birthday but Arthur is …shock, horror…found dead. So far so Cluedo. This is no formulaic murder tale however.

The cast comprises of just two actors: Lee O’Reilly who plays Officer Marcus Moscowicz eager to solve the crime and win promotion and Sam Denia who plays all the suspects, switching between characters with dazzling alacrity sometimes literally spinning and twirling from one role to the next. The speed and energy of the performance could make it hard for the audience to follow who’s who but this is cleverly avoided thanks to the use of a single distinguishing prop for each character, for example, a pipe for the doctor, a pencil for the student, a pair of glasses for the dotty wife. Those visual aids along with Sam’s ability to switch tone and accent from French female to Scouse schoolboy in an instant make the chameleon effect hilarious and impressive in equal measure.

It is a double act that works beautifully. Played like a duet, each actor complements the other with Lee’s straight man proving the perfect foil to Sam’s zany, speed chase through the suspects. It’s hard to believe they only met when rehearsals started such is their easy bond on stage.

The set is a work of art in its own right, made to look like the props store of a film studio, it incorporates a dizzying array of props that the two actors use to help tell the story. With items hidden in nooks and crannies all over the set, how they remember where each one is, is a mystery in its own right. The props are also used to stand in for extra characters: one unseen character is represented by a box with her name painted on the front, full of items used to describe her part in the story.

At the heart of all this is some seriously good piano playing. Conjuring up the image of a duel, two pianos stand back to back at the centre of the stage. Sometimes the actors simply sit at a piano and play, more often they do anything but: they play by reaching over each other, moving from one piano to the other, covering their eyes, leaning over the top to play the wrong side of the keys backwards. At one point, Lee lies on his back on the piano stool and plays with his hands over his head. It’s highly skilled musicianship delivered with a lightness that is pure entertainment.

It's also really funny. The night we visited, there were several people properly guffawing and no wonder.

The age guidance is 12+ and certainly, we felt that younger children would struggle to keep up (there’s also the odd swear word and mildly rude joke). The breakneck speed and raucous comedy would be a good fit for teens however because Murder for Two is a killer night out. You never know, it might even inspire them to do their piano practice.

Family Ticket

The Barn Theatre offers a family ticket for 2 adults (full price) and up to 3 children under the age of 16 (half price).

Book your tickets here.