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The Musical Detective Agency
The Space
5th March 2014

★★☆☆☆

Tice Oakfield

Photography © Dadiow Lin.

With so many shows vying for attention, it's understandable that sometimes companies resort to a few gimmicks, to try to give their production some kind of edge. The fringe circuit is nothing if not saturated. In FLYING DUTCHMAN's latest production, The Musical Detective Agency, they've taken a ridiculous story, put it to music, and used one of their collective to front it. It's a one-man musical about solving crime, with the cynic in me suspecting it is riding on the popularity of both Sherlock and the West End.

The problem is, it's not that easy writing a musical (even Andrew Lloyd Webber doesn't always get it right - Stephen Ward is closing with a run of less than four months). And if you feel the need to use some kind of hook, you know you're facing an uphill struggle from the start. Sometimes it's better to just pare things back and really focus on what's left.

In the first half, our hero, James Holland (Tice Oakfield) is engaged by a mysterious woman (also Oakfield) to track down a rather dangerous guinea pig. If it walks like a chicken and squawks like a chicken, it probably is a chicken, and sure enough, the reason why the second half feels so disjointed is because it's a completely separate show based on the same character and premise. In this sequel, the detective travels to Mexico to investigate a missing rooster and has a rather unfortunate accident involving a snake.

The book is daft and that isn't a problem in itself, an intelligent plot can often be the foundation of a brilliant comedy, but it's not strictly necessary. The issue with The Musical Detective Agency is that the music and lyrics are wanting. It does feel that in the excitement in devising this piece, the company haven't spent enough time on the detail. Oakfield can hold a tune and play the piano, but the melodies he is given to work with by composer Matt Reynolds are flat. Oakfield's baritone fights with the precorded sound at the lower notes, resulting in some of the jokes - such as they are - being lost.

James Holland ain't no Ace Ventura but he's no Detective Barnaby either. With a tall, thin frame, dressed sharply, Oakfield is built for physical comedy, and he's certainly committed to his craft, literally throwing himself into his work. He's an enthusiastic performer, perhaps not charismatic, but certainly endearing and very likeable.

The cabaret layout is fitting with the piece, and director Dadiow Lin uses the space well. But what is perhaps more important is doing something to stitch the two halves together, and she doesn't manage this.

The show doesn't need recasting, nor does it need another performer, there's plenty of potential with Oakfield. However the company would do well to lose the second show and focus on The Mystery of the Missing Guinea Pig, composing some catchier tunes and refining the dialogue. The desire to create a long-running series out of one character is understandable, but there's no point spending time on episodes unless the pilot has gone well.

The Musical Detective Agency opened on 4th March and runs until 8th March 2014 at The Space.

Nearest tube station: Mudchute (DLR)



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