theSpace @ Symposium Hall (Amphitheatre)
However you discovered the great daytime crime show Murder She Wrote – whether you watched it during the 1985 release, you saw the re-runs on BBC1 in the late Noughties, or you’ve stumbled upon its current binge-friendly schedule on Great! TV and 5USA – you don’t forget it. This clever and camp programme sees crime writer J.B. Fletcher, a.k.a. Jessica Fletcher (the late great Dame Angela Lansbury) charming her way into genuine murder cases, helping the police in her cosy Maine home or on the road when she gets invited to yet another writing event, seminar or holiday. In true TV fashion, she always unmasks the culprit, making it great comfort viewing.
Writer and director Tim Benzie is a super-fan of Murder She Wrote, and here he breaks down its appeal and tropes with us, splitting up an episode into bite-size chunks interspersed with fascinating facts about the locations, plot structure and much more. Our allocated episode is Sing a Song of Murder, from 1985, set in London but with some strange accents and a “weird geography” with bizarre opening shots that he points out are logistically impossible.
Benzie knows how to put on a great show; he’s an award-winning playwright who co-wrote the Royal Vauxhall Tavern’s annual panto for four years. What’s more you can tell he’s having a ball doing it, from finding TV ads from the year the episode was screened, to taking on multiple costume changes.
There are always recognisable faces in the Murder She Wrote cast, though their levels of fame vary, and that’s one thing that Benzie questions us on during this interactive, prop-laden show: who’s the most famous guest star? His crudely-made but fabulous ‘Fameometer’ and ‘Suspiciometer’ allow us to track each character. Audience members are armed with their very own little placard to wave at key points (I kept mine as a souvenir), giving us voting rights and keeping us invested as the episode unfolds.
In case you’re wondering, Benzie points out that he does have the blessing of NBC Universal to screen and dissect the episode footage. I don’t know if any of their TV executives have ever seen this production, but it’s made with so much love and enthusiasm that NBC Universal should probably pay him a retainer, because people will surely rewatch and stream the show after this trip down memory lane. I would happily see it again, with all the fervour of the ‘Jessica Fletcher eating popcorn’ meme.
Written and directed by: Tim Benzie
It starts a tour of the UK and Ireland from 7 September, including venues in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Galway and Dublin, showing a range of different episodes from the TV series.