Theatre Review: StaG presents I Shot the Detective

Glasgow Student Theatre’s history with comedy has been rather hit and miss of late, from their excellent production of Laura Wade’s Posh in 2016 to their rather more flawed production of Richard Bean’s One Man, Two Guvnors earlier this year (for a breakdown on that, please read my review at I Shot the Detective, I’m pleased to report, is a return to the sort of side-splitting antics that one should expect from a proper comedy. Written by STaG stalwart Rory Doherty, this 1920’s set parody of the Murder Mystery genre is the most I’ve laughed since I saw The Play That Goes Wrong.

The scene opens with a dead body centre stage (played by Kevin, a polystyrene head and a lot of pillows stuffed into a suit). Kevin is joined by an eclectic host of characters consisting of Ballantyne, the drunken landowner, Miss Jane, the long-suffering maid, Lady Catherine Habton, the harsh mistress of the house, Jackson, a family friend (and Jane’s secret lover) and finally Charlie Habton, Lady Catherine’s son, who enters with a gun and does a very poor job of hiding that he shot the detective. It is revealed that the detective was investigating the murder of Ruth, his sister, Catherine’s daughter and Jackson’s fiancé. Charlie goes on to say that he killed the detective because if he continued investigating everyone’s secrets would be revealed (a reference to the cliché of the detective gathering everyone at the end and revealing everyone’s dirt, even the stuff that has nothing to do with the murder). As the play goes on, everyone’s dirt is revealed anyway, from Jackson and Jane’s affair to Catherine and Ballantynes decade long tryst and the truth behind Jackson and Ruth’s impending nuptials.

In a farce of the nature (and that is what it is, a satirical farce of the genre), all that truly matters I feel is the comedy. One does not go to such a play to talk about the set design, costuming, or if the syntax was appropriate for the twenties (which is just as well, really, because they were largely awful, which only served to add to the comedy of it). All I know is, I entered the venue in a somewhat melancholy disposition, but left beaming like a fool. I have in the past criticised STaG for using actors more than characters (that is to say, trusting on the audience knowing the actor to make it more funny than it might be otherwise). In this case, though I know the entire cast, they could have been complete strangers to me and it would have been just as hysterical. The characterisation was so over-the-top and completely ridiculous that you could not help but be amused. Each actor gave a performance that brimmed with energy and mirth and, though each was superb and deserves recognition, I believe the greatest accolade must go to Nicolas Kelly as Ballantyne Branworth, whose every antic onstage had me breaking out in fits of hysterics. A truly enjoyable night out, well-written, solidly directed and performed to perfection.

Michael Cartledge

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