Review: REHEARSAL FOR MURDER at DOLPHIN Theatre, Auckland

What did our critic think of REHEARSAL FOR MURDER at DOLPHIN Theatre, Auckland?

By: Dec. 01, 2023
Review: REHEARSAL FOR MURDER at DOLPHIN Theatre, Auckland

Superbly and expertly directed by the highly experienced Julia Leathwick, REHEARSAL FOR MURDER  is a deliciously dramatic delight, especially for anyone associated with the real world of theatre. It’s everything we love about the classic WHODUNNIT – a range of possible “theatrical” characters all with motives, a slowly unfolding plot which is presented with flair, and precisely executed staging and lighting.  Levinson and Link are well-known for other intricate mysteries such as “Colombo” and “Murder, She Wrote” and this one will not disappoint.   The many twists in this tale will keep you all guessing – right to the final closing scene. Will you manage to guess who did it? Let me tell you more – well, as much I can.

The play begins in the present, with a rather eerie opening monologue from playwright Alex Dennison (John Palmer).  The lighting is dim and we are brought immediately in the world of an empty rehearsal space in the theatre. It is a world of shadows and, as Dennison says, “plays begin with words. Movies are for children, the theatre is another animal.”   Every character has emotion to be “read” in the subtle touches of expressive faces and bodies, the looks, the eyes, the position of hands. That’s what makes live theatre so impressive.

So what will unfold in this play – is a clever past/present construct in which Alex Dennison shows the audience what happened a year prior – and seeks to uncover with a “play within a play” what really happened to his fiancée, actress Monica Welles (Trudy Price-Madgwick). The improvisation will uncover the truth. The scene changes are slick and effective – thanks to Ian McMahon for the curtain creation – and warmer lighting captures the world of the present whereas the past is cold, sharply lit and often spotlit. Congratulations to the lighting designer (Gareth Evans) capturing the director’s vision. The moving spotlight certainly highlights the dramatic and evocative moments.

Congratulations to all the cast, and the director, for the natural delivery,  and realistically paced dialogue. Of special note is the way the vocally contrasted characters shaped the unfolding narrative. Is this a murder or a suicide? Thoroughly distraught, Dennison can't believe Monica would ever commit suicide – even with mixed reviews for opening night. Under the disguise of having the invited cast read for his new play, Dennison locks them in until the truth comes out.

Convincing performances from all the likeable and skilled cast who all have more one side to them, that’s for sure:  the bickering husband and wife acting team who are desperate for work, Karen Daniels (Sheree Veysey) and Leo Gibbs (Shivneel Singh), beautifully dressed production manager Bella Lamb (Stephanie Liebert),  director Lloyd Andrews (Ian Milne ) and vain lead David Matthews (Jake Le Jeunesse) all demand to know what Alex's true intentions are. At the end of Act One Dennison reveals that the killer of Monica is in the theatre. No one is going to be allowed to leave until the truth is known. 

In Act 2 the pace and energy build the tension and suspense escalates , particularly by the entirely convincing, well-shaped and emotionally driven performance of John Palmer.  This is a challenging role – the professional highly skilled playwright, the distraught lover, the debonair and distinguished fiancé. The play’s intensity builds from the moment we are introduced to detective Frank Heller (Bradley Pope). The ending is unexpected and riveting. But as Dennison says, the murderer "was an actor being offered a remarkable part." 

Vitality and truth in the minor roles played by Melissa Uren, Andrew Maher, Anne Kendall and Karl Fleet. This is a wonderfully constructed play punctuated with lightning and creativity AND -- let’s not forget the clever touches from the wardrobe design (Jocelyn McQuaid assisted by Robyn Fleming and Jo Olsen) and those authenticity touches in the foyer posters -- you will know what I mean when you go!

Book early – you could easily miss out. There’s just a week to go – final night is Dec 9th. Help keep live theatre alive! Theatres need your support.