Updated: Mar 4, 2020
2019 is coming to an end, and over the course of 3 blog posts, I will be publishing a series that casts a critical eye of the last year of ETC, looking at what we did well, what we could have done better, and what we would like to do again.
Murder at Redrum Manor
Our first production of 2019 played to sell-out audiences in April. “Murder at Redrum Manor” was ETC’s twist on a classic Agatha Christie murder mystery. Billed as a 1920s whodunit, the production was cut short after just 10 minutes as the power went out and the director was killed. We then told the story of the actors and their director through the use of flashbacks, showing us their audition and rehearsal process, building up to the big reveal of the murderer at the end of the play.
The idea was initially developed in the autumn of 2018, over a meal at a local pub. ETC was on a high following the success of Teechers, and myself, Tom and Ezra were keen to bring new faces on board, but this was also a big risk. Would the inclusion of more people mean that the quality of ETC’s productions would drop? We contacted a few friends who we knew to be among Hucknall’s most talented actors, and invited them out for dinner and a chat about what the future may hold.
A few scripts were suggested and some ideas thrown around, but one idea seemed to stick, and got all of us very excited. The idea was born from “The Play that Goes Wrong”, a Mischief theatre production that many of us had seen both in the theatre and on TV. The main premise is that of an amateur group putting on a show where nothing quite goes to plan. This is a great comedic piece, of course, but ETC wanted to do something a little different – what if the play went wrong, but the audience weren’t warned beforehand?
This had to be planned carefully. We didn’t want the audience to realise what was happening until the last minute. This meant we couldn’t go too over the top – the “mistakes” had to be believable. We spoke about lots of different ideas, including the set falling down, people forgetting lines, people entering at the wrong moment – but the most believable idea was the sound and lighting failing. To trick our audience members, we advertised that Elise was taking over the role of technician for the very first time, and that there was a lot of pressure on her to not make any mistakes.
With those ideas in place, we then had to decide on an overall story. Our initial discussions revolved around the mystery of someone sabotaging the production on purpose – someone trying to frame Elise for ruining the show, or someone tampering with her laptop to make sure the show was a disaster. This was a good idea, but the stakes never seemed high enough. So, instead, we decided to kill the director.
What started off as a tongue-in-cheek murder mystery became an actual murder mystery, and we had lots of fun coming up with different reasons why everyone might want the director (me!) dead. I kept forgetting Tom’s name, I’d been bullying Ezra, I was trying to isolate Chris, I’d blamed Luke for making a mistake during a fight scene… “Murder at Redrum Manor” was a lot of fun to create and a real team effort.
We were never quite sure whether it was going to work though. The advertising campaign was picking up on social media, tickets were selling fast, we were featured in local newspapers and posters were being displayed across Hucknall. But everyone was being sold a 1920s murder mystery, and that was categorically not what they were going to get. We went into the first performance extremely cautious and worried that people were going to ask for their money back.
Thankfully, that was not the case. In fact, the first ten minutes of “Murder at Redrum Manor” set up such a blatantly bad murder mystery that the audience were relived with the twist, and thoroughly enjoyed the following act and a half of “proper story”. We received great reviews online and in the Dispatch, and we have since edited the script and put it on our website for distribution to other groups.
“Murder at Redrum Manor” was our first piece of devised theatre, and our first production as a group of 8 rather than 3. It was a risk, but it seems the risk definitely paid off.
At our most recent meeting, we discussed “Murder at Redrum Manor” and the ideas behind it. We love the idea of tricking our audience, and having a major twist within the first half of the show. The result of a fake advertising campaign meant that the play appealed to certain people that might not have been interested had they known the actual setting and story. Will future ETC productions feature similar twists? Maybe, but not exactly the same. We want to find new ways to trick the audience, to lead them into a false sense of security and then pull the rug from under their feet. We have lots of ideas how we can do that… but of course, I’m not going to spoil that here! “Murder at Redrum Manor” is ETC’s best-selling production to date and that means that we’re definitely going to be looking to it for inspiration for our future productions. As Tom’s character said to me during the closing moments of the play, “it’s an experiment, but sometimes, you need to take risks”.
Tom Morley, December 2019