Business is good

The Business of Murder (Sharmony Productions)

Studio Theatre and Café

June 3 – 13

The story of “The Business of Murder” centres around the interlocking cat and mouse relationship between three characters: successful TV playwright Dee Redmond, Detective Superintendant John Hallet and a mysterious Mr. Stone. They are all in the business of murder, one way or another, but probably not in the ways you think.

The story is from the pen of Richard Harris, a master of the genre. On the West End, the play enjoyed a successful eight year run, such is its enduring appeal. Although there is only a cast of three, the plot is thoroughly engaging. Twists come early and are plentiful in this intriguing narrative, whose two acts take place over one afternoon and evening. You would think that with such a small ensemble it would be easy to figure out the twists – but it’s not, and the show leaves you guessing until the end thanks to multiple red herrings.

By mere nature, “The Business of Murder” is a wordy show as clues are revealed in explanation to the characters (and thus the audience). And the bulk of them come from Paul Careless. As the ordinary, average, non-descript middle aged man Stone, Careless is initially quaintly old fashioned (in a bumbling George Roper type way) and then increasingly creepy and malignantly minded as he festers with plans for revenge. His self-pitying and ultimately pitiful portrayal conveys a genuine commitment to the role, causing the audience to oscillate between considering him as protagonist and antagonist. This is the skill of his commanding performance; he is barely off-stage and his energy never wavers. His character presents a full range of emotions and controls most of the action, so it really is his show. And he more than does the psychological thriller justice with his performance.

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Rob Harvey too is impressive as Hallet. As an arrogant policeman and a bit of lad, he is suitably sure of himself and old school in his methods and language, dropping some cockney rhyming slang to add to characterisation. There is much humour from Hallet in particular and although lines like “insanity; it’s heredity. You get it from kids,” may be groan-worthy, they are comfortably so.

The story is set in a small but pleasant enough early ‘80s North London flat’s sitting room and is suitably British in feel (including thanks to some spot on accents). And while there are some wobbly wall moments, the intimate space of the Studio Theatre stage has been used to great effect, creating depth of design in its detailed touches and décor.

In an independent theatre landscape almost saturated with youth focussed companies, it is refreshing to see the fledgling Sharmony Productions now on the scene to produce small cast plays to showcase the talents of more seasoned performers as well as up and coming actors. And the result is an inaugural show of immense quality. “The Business of Murder” is, quite simply, a jolly good story, told by three talented actors who are absolute in their ability to hold audience attention.

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