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Agatha Christie Meets 12 Days Of Christmas In Anti-Panto
This is one Christmas show that is pretty short on festive spirit. But it is definitely no less entertaining and fun because of it. Instead of Santa, sleigh bells and all things warm and cosy, Crimes Against Christmas is littered with gruesome murders as a yuletide holiday break turns into carnage.
Dan Winter as Father Vickers, Heather Westwell as the Russian princess, and Jonny McClean as the Duke. Credit Pamela Raith Photography
Crimes Against Christmas, which is enjoying a festive run at the Lichfield Garrick theatre from December 9 to 31, has been billed as Agatha Christie meets the 12 Days of Christmas. And that very much hits the nail on the head (which actually isn't one of the methods used to kill off the various characters!) in what is the ultimate adults only anti-pantomime.
Peter Artridge (Feargus Woods Dunlop) with Lady McMickle (Heather Westwell). Credit Pamela Raith Photography
This often hilarious and witty play has been co-produced by the Lichfield Garrick and acclaimed comedy theatre company New Old Friends, in partnership with Theatre Royal Bath and Natural Theatre Company. It soon becomes apparent to the audience that the plot of Crimes Against Christmas, described as a comedy thriller for adults, is loosely based around the Agatha Christie classic, And Then There Were None. But there is also a growing awareness that the murders, and the victims themselves, are following a devilishly wicked pattern inspired by The 12 Days of Christmas.
The plot sees an apparently random group of people mysteriously invited to spend Christmas on a remote island, with no boats returning to the mainland until December 26. But set against the seemingly innocent party invite is the whereabouts and safe keeping of the valuable Faberge Christmas bauble - not quite as famous as the Faberge eggs made for the Russian royal family in the 19th century but very much a prized jewel nonetheless. In classic whodunnit style, once on the island the guests start to die in suspicious ways based on The 12 Days of Christmas: Lords a-leaping to their deaths, maids whilst milking, and a bizarre demise involving a cream piper. And tasked with trying to solve the murder mystery is art investigator Peter Artridge who needs to keep well away from the pear trees in the orchard.
Agatha Christie meets the 12 Days of Christmas
Incredibly, the production is made possible by just four actors, including the husband and wife team behind New Old Friends, Heather Westwell and Feargus Woods Dunlop, who are given the unenviable task of having to play all 13 characters trapped on the remote island over Christmas. Actually, Feargus gets off relatively lightly in that regard as he merely takes on the role of Artridge, who narrates his thoughts to the audience in between scenes as he sets about unravelling the diverse characters and the murders that followed.
Dan Winter as Mr Drummer with Feargus Woods Dunlop as Artridge. Pamela Raith Photography
And those characters range from a US oil baron called Drummer, a street rapper called Turtle, and a Russian princess with a hilariously rude name I can't print here, to the Duke who owns the house and island, his daughter and son-in-law, and their three members of staff. With a fast-paced narrative and regular costume changes, the potential murder suspects keep getting bumped off until there's hardly anyone left at the end.
P Artridge with the butler and maid. Pamela Raith Photography
As well as Feargus Woods Dunlop and Heather Westwell, the other cast members are Dan Winter, who takes on the roles of Father Vickers, Mr Drummer, the son-in-law Lord McMickle, and the chef, and Jonny McClean, who is equally convincing as Duke Richshtenshan, Turtle, Italian art smuggler Don Crimine, and the butler. Needless to say, they are all extremely impressive in the various roles they have to take on, with Heather adding the flirtatious Lady McMickle, the maid and Turtle's uninvited girlfriend Michelle to the Russian princess whose name you will have to guess at until you go to see it yourself.
Art investigar Artridge questions the vicar. Pamela Raith Photography
Crimes Against Christmas runs in the Lichfield Garrick's studio theatre from Friday 9 to Sunday 31 December, with a variety of evening and matinee performances. Tickets can be booked online or by calling the Box Office on 01543 412121.