Theatre Review: Deathly Murder: Killed By A Killer – Farce About Fate, Or Terminal Tittering

May 19, 2024




Deathly Murder: Killed By A Killer / Directed by Martin Grendele / Theatre On The Square, Sandton, Johannesburg


In the tradition of Agatha Christie whodunnits, but squeezed through an archly daft farce filter, Deathly Murder: Killed By A Killer brings together, in Johannesburg’s T.O.P Comedy Ensemble, a group of young actors who clearly delight in devising and performing unlikely but entertaining stories that demolish the fourth wall and, in this case, the door to the lighting booth as well (as the narrator/murder victim spends a fair amount of time keeping the theatre technicians company while his colleagues steer red herrings around onstage.

There are a handful of classic elements – a larger-than-life Hollywood personality who rubs many people up the wrong way; a group of other industry types who all have either motives for engineering some mischief in that personality’s life or poor enough relationships with him that they’re not going to mind if he happens to run into adversity; and a murder that requires solving via the navigation of a number of separate but intertwining plot threads, each with their own quirkiness.

The characters are given idiosyncrasies that make them far funnier than suspects in a murder mystery have a right to be – a bizarre accent, a complete inability to deliver on the skills they say they have and, perhaps most hilariously, a studiously maintained silly walk (if it’s not a knowing nod to Monty Python, it might be a subconscious one).

Martin Grendele, who also directs, is immediately and consistently engaging and amusing as big-time director Dorian Draycott, who is murdered but, given his nature when alive, is reluctant to leave the scene, acting as the narrator and instigator of the action. Grendele’s imposing physical presence and confident, roguish manner make him an excellent pivot for the piece. Sasha Karlin is also strong, with his purposefully over-wrought emotional responses recalling Michael Richards’ style as Kramer in Seinfeld.

The cast’s commitment to absurdity is wonderful and infectious. However, there are some issues with the editing of the show – timing in some instances (pauses that are slightly stretched out; delivery that could be more clipped) and the too-generous length of certain sequences – that remove the sting from some of the verbal barbs and dilute the impact of the frenzied physical energy.

This is a debut run of the show, however, and it’ll very likely tighten up as it goes, making it an even more grin-inducing romp than it already is.