views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Murderettes
The Phoenix Artist Club
10th August 2014

★★☆☆☆

Publicity image for The Murderettes

Photography provided by The Murderettes

Since the decline of the Roman Empire, paying for a show has involved rather tamer entertainment than dead bodies on stage. With The Murderettes, you're guaranteed at least one death in front of you, if not more. Now, that's the sort of exclusive offer you can't get outside of the Camden Fringe. This year's show takes on the same concept as last year's - someone dies on stage, the audience suggest a few things for the performers to work into the drama - but the line up is different. This time round it's Jake Sarfas, Peter Edwards, Tom Tween, Norm Rocher and Ken McLoone trying to kill or be killed.

It remains a fun idea, but sadly the execution is weaker. It's difficult to make things up on the spot - it's even harder to be funny with it. The trick is to script set pieces and cock-ups of and improvised play very tightly, yet make the audience believe it's been pulled out of thin air. Mischief Improv and Abandoman have it down to a fine art and The Murderettes would do well to learn from those acts.

Initially it seemed as if nothing had been planned, given the performers struggled so much, but then it became clear that the storyline - such as it is - had been written in advance. There's less audience input this year - we are asked to choose two emotions, one for Edwards and one for McCloone, but that's where our involvement largely ends. We don't pick the profession of any of the characters, the setting or the murder weapon - it's a lot more passive.

Tween has his own solo act this year and he's certainly the most obvious choice to take the lead, having the most natural charisma. Here, he valiantly tries to keep the action on track, reminding the other performers that they're meant to be doing something when they've forgotten to do as much - a noble effort, but he can't carry them all. He is, however, assisted in this endeavour by Edwards, who remembers his through-lines and also tries to keep others in check. Reliable if a little-low energy.

Rocher makes regular callbacks which, in theory, shows some technique but unfortunately his constant references to dead black people and being the head of Lloyds TSB just aren't funny. If a joke doesn't work, ditch it, don't keep repeating it in the hope that eventually it will go full-circle into hilarious. Repetition isn't funny, unless you're Stewart Lee. And while we've seen McLoone pull off a decent piece of acting as Miss Diagnosis, he is less successful at live comedy. Sarfas is plain underused to the point where there's just not a lot to say about him.

When one of the audience members really gets into the show, not only making suggestions but putting on a funny voice too, he manages to steal the limelight from the actual performers. I had hoped that The Murderettes would come back with a more solid offering than they had last year, but sadly the new line up doesn't seem to be as strong.

There's nothing wrong with the concept, but the troupe needs to prepare better and increase participation levels. They also need to become more aware of what's working and what isn't - with not everyone on stage at the same time, they have the opportunity of having at least one performer always listening, always ready to smash the scene, crack some jokes and reinvigorate the humour. Maybe this mix of comedians haven't worked together long enough to feel able to do that but if there's any politeness or male pride going about, that needs to die a quick death. Rapport is key.

Each show will be different, so you may be luckier with the performance but on my viewing, this didn't really work. The Murderettes didn't manage a killer show and it's a shame, because the concept is fun - but needs more style and, vitally, more laughs.

The Murderettes opened on 3rd August and runs until 24th August 2014 (weekends only) at the Phoenix Artist Club, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Tottenham Court Road (Northern, Central)



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