“Sometimes they search your bags when you go into theatre, don’t they?” Says an older lady sitting next to us. We agree.
“Anyway, the only weapon I’ve got in here are me HRT pills,” she adds.
It’s a line that could come straight out of a Royal Court play. Delivered deadpan it’s direct, vaguely naughty – and effortlessly funny.
We’re at the Royal Court to enjoy the new production by Gerry Linford, who has returned to the Royal Court with another high-concept idea. Following his ‘scousers on the moon’ take in Yellow Breck Road, his latest play features a man whose imaginary friend is unconventional LA detective Columbo.
This might make for an uneasy blend of genre but in the hands of Liam Tobin, the mac-wearing cigar-chomper’s appearances are intermittent and, if not forensic (it’s an impression more than an impersonation, albeit a very good one), then certainly worthy of investigation.
Paul Duckworth as the sleuth-obsessed Eddie got laid off from Fords and now works in an old-folks home. Sensible wife Trish (Pauline Fleming) is the bread-winner and there’s more than a suggestion that this emasculation has driven Eddie into a fantasy world to escape more mundane anxieties.
It’s shrewd and well-observed. How middle-aged men can go a bit peculiar when they have too much time on their hands – and ignore more mundane mysteries under their own roofs?
Their daughter Phoebe (Olivia Sloyan) has returned from uni with daft friend Josh (Michael Peace) and all four get drawn into investigating the dubious going-on next door, where amorous couple Greta (Gillian Hardie) and Martin (Liam Tobin) have just moved in.
The new pair are all minimalist decor and Grand Designs stylings – not to mention perhaps the first appearance of Chekhov’s Dildo in theatre – in contrast to Eddie and Trish’s more traditional, rather cluttered, semi (which is more than poor Eddie can muster).
Eddie’s suspicions are aroused by Greta’s past and when they protagonists learn of Martin’s apparent death by heart attack he becomes convinced the saucy wife is behind it.
In reality The Menlove Avenue Murder Mystery May have unusual trappings but at heart it’s an honest-to-goodness farce – and the cast are more than up to it, and they’re not above sending the whole thing up.
Tobin and Hardie particularly have a whale of a time, rolling their eyes, lines and more besides. It’s something a treat seeing Tobin ham it up wildly, following a brooding turn as Sweeney Todd on the Everyman stage not too long ago. Duckworth was also in the musical up the road and the contrast is a superb showcase for their abilities.
Tobin plays a well-meaning but slightly annoying neighbour from a ’80s sitcom perfectly; his wife a shrewish terror who has a huge picture of her enormous breasts adorning the wall.
It’s perhaps Hardie who steals the show. Her lascivious, devious and utterly mischievous performance owns the stage and her partnership with Tobin sees them frequently essaying cheeky asides to the audience and trying not to corpse. It’s infectious stuff; gloriously daft.
While the interesting subcurrents detailing Eddie’s retreat into fantasy don’t really go anywhere it doesn’t detract from a tight, fluent and thoroughly enjoyable modern farce, helped no end by an excellent cast. All the Liverpool trimmings – scatological humour, mistrust of posh people, fondness for bevvies – are present and correct but The Menlove Avenue Murder Mystery has a real style of its own.
“It’s proper Liverpool humour isn’t it?” says the older lady next to us. And we can’t help but agree.
The Menlove Avenue Murder Mystery
Royal Court Theatre
Until 21 September