It was a dark and stormy night at New Theatre. We knew this because a Narrator (played by Nick Moran with gothic panache) told us so in menacing tones and, just in case we missed it, so did the bow-tied and bereaved Gaius Loveheart as he soliloquised in his dark and dusty chamber. The Magnificent and Wholly Unsolved Mystery of The Cranberry Chamber (to give its full title) is from beginning to end a delightful send up of the whodunit genre which takes a familiar form of parody, re-molds it for their own surreal purposes, then probably scampers off to a dark corner to do something unspeakable to it. The twist is that once the inevitable homicide has been committed then the plot is left in the audience’s hands to decide- whodunit? Not only that but we get to pick the last line. Let’s hope it won’t be ‘Whatever became of the turnips?’ again for the poor actors sake…
The newly formed improv group (SIN) has created a play which proves a great showcase for the inventiveness and individuality of its performers while also maintaining a distinctive brand of dark and pleasingly cartoonish humour which unites the production. In a manor house in deepest darkest Beeston we meet a sadistic housekeeper, a besotted maid with a hazy conception of what constitutes ‘personal space’, a man who loves boilers a little too much and the master of the house, grieving for his late wife Zaccharina. Or could it be that she is actually… punctual? Like cornflower in a recipe, Zaccharina makes a late and plot-thickening entry into the mix, with a rampant Russian lesbian in tow for extra spice… From her first strident be-bereted stride on stage the rampant Irma (played with a delightful disregard for the bounds of decency by Robyn Ellis) picked up the pace of the production and dispelled the slight hesitancy which muted the humour of the play’s opening scenes. Fellow in the most-ridiculous-accent category was the disturbed and pungent Arnold who lives chained to the boiler. He was also chosen as the dastardly murderer in the performance I saw, raising the bar of mad Gollum-esque acting everywhere in the process.
It’s once the improvisation began that the comedy really takes off. The tension as the audience held their breath, willing the spontaneous performance to stay on the rails, was wonderfully dispelled by the cast’s combination of surreal imagination and infectious fun which brought the production to a chaotic end. A fantastically mad evening with more laughs than you could shake a suspicious cranberry-stained hatchet at.