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America’s No.1 Detective Agency, Drayton Arms Theatre – Review

Pros: Captures the era with plenty of funny moments.

Cons: Too convoluted to follow.

Pros: Captures the era with plenty of funny moments. Cons: Too convoluted to follow. Inspired by film noir of the 1940’s, including classics Mildred Pierce and The Third Man, Fatale Femme give us America’s No.1 Detective Agency, a comedic outing to the world of private eyes, gangsters, and the seedier side of Hollywood. Vivian O’Connell was the best detective this side of Los Angeles. Until, that is, the Wallace Case exploded, and Bobby Monroe took her title and all the good cases with it. So when a distressed starlet bursts into her office asking for help dealing with a nudie photo taker,…

Summary

Rating

Good

A well acted pastiche with plenty of chortles, though the story needs more clarity.

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Inspired by film noir of the 1940’s, including classics Mildred Pierce and The Third Man, Fatale Femme give us America’s No.1 Detective Agency, a comedic outing to the world of private eyes, gangsters, and the seedier side of Hollywood.

Vivian O’Connell was the best detective this side of Los Angeles. Until, that is, the Wallace Case exploded, and Bobby Monroe took her title and all the good cases with it. So when a distressed starlet bursts into her office asking for help dealing with a nudie photo taker, Vivian heads after the perv, despite thinking such cases beneath her. But will this be the case that restores her to her place as America’s No.1?

Kudos to designer Natalie Jackson. The instant you set foot in The Drayton Arms Theatre you’re transported back to the haze filled, lethargic glamour of the 40’s, full of dull greens, creams, browns and blacks; when smoking was sophisticated and furniture was simple. The set is delightfully simple: a wooden door reading ‘Detective,’ a couple of tall bar stools and tables, and a desk and chair, with new locations smoothly and efficiently indicated by the moving of these pieces. I was instantly in the period.

The tone of the era is also set by the onstage band (Danny Wallington on keyboard, Justin Tambini on drums, Isabella Bassett on vocals), who play to support, enhance and carry the action with instantly recognisable tunes such as the Pink Panther theme, and Nina Simone, which intensify the sense of time and place both overtly and subtly. Numerous set changes are choreographed in time to their playing, the actors moving fluidly and in sync with each other, which I always find impressive to watch and is indicative of a well rehearsed, confident ensemble.

The cast, including the band, give energetic, excellent performances, and to highlight any one of them would be a disservice to the others. They are a multi-talented bunch: acting, singing, dancing, and in one case putting on one of the best faux French accents I’ve heard.

Despite the clear start, I got lost fairly quickly. The cast was small, and everyone made their relationship to everyone else plain, but it wasn’t long before I became lost in the mire of ex-husbands, fathers, uncles, daughters and nieces, as the characters’ deceptions and identity frauds began to stack up. Being a detective story in a slightly screwball style, I expected subterfuge and deception, of which there was plenty. But watching the show unfold felt rather like trying to read a page of script that’s half crumpled: all the information was there, I just couldn’t see enough for it to
make sense, which was a shame. Still, that confusion did not hinder my enjoyment of the show, there was just too much to relish. The set, the costume, the music, the actors, all came together in a delightful period romp, and it would only have needed a simple redraft for clarity to make it a must-see for fans of noir or detective comedy. Definitely a company to keep an eye on.

Author: Liv Hunterson
Director: Anna Marshall
Booking Until: This show has now ended its run

About EJ Robinson