York Theatre Royal’s latest season is certainly shaping up to be busy and rather eclectic. They’ve got all sorts coming up – but one show I wasn’t expecting to see on the bill was this one: The Curse of the Amazon Pearl, written and directed by local York-based actor Michael Lambourne. The title initially piqued my interest, but when I found out what the show actually was, I couldn’t really say no, mainly thanks to my sheer curiosity. Amazon Pearl is a murder mystery with a buffet midway through, set in the splendour of a ballroom in York Theatre Royal’s De Grey rooms. Having never been to a murder mystery evening, I looked forward to seeing what all the fuss was about.
The show is about the eccentric family members of a mollycoddled explorer named Peregrine Lackington-Whit (also Lambourne), whose mother Ursula (Mandy Newby) is throwing him a celebratory dinner in honour of him discovering the world’s most prized pearl from deep within the Amazon rainforest. Yet his herbalism-obsessed sister Ottilie (Sarah Louise Davies) suspects her brother’s got something to hide, and when a random Bishop (Andy Love) crashes the party and is murdered, it’s down to the audience and undercover cowboy-turned-mandolin player Sarsaparilla Sam (Jonny Neaves) to figure out who the killer is.
Right off the bat, Amazon Pearl presents itself to you as a show that never takes itself too seriously and very cleverly manipulates the rules of its own format. It does this through a careful consideration of audience interaction and building complicity with them, through a simple pre-set of characters guiding audience members to tables and subtly planting doubtful seeds in their minds. After the interval, when you think you have everything sussed, Lambourne’s script takes more twists and keeps you guessing until the end.
Amazon Pearl understands its role as a piece of shared experience, and you can sense this in each of the well-characterised, clear performances. Davies is a lovely contrast to the babble of Lambourne’s Peregrine, sparking a sibling rivalry that adds to the doubt, while Newby does a lovely job of portraying an embittered, hard-faced mother that wants the best for her children, and ultimately herself. With fun musical interludes from the undercover agent and his companion Bunny Love (Laura Prior), Amazon Pearl makes for a varied and engaging evening.
There are also some clever little flourishes of added theatricality; through some small physical theatre skits, we see him trawl through his Indiana Jones-esque exploits. This adds an extra layer of texture to the proceedings, and indicates that this isn’t just any murder mystery, but one that’s been cleverly conceived in conjunction with the prolific Theatre Royal and Make a Killing Theatre to great effect.
My only criticism of the show is the fact that the performers’ voices are sometimes lost in the high ceiling of the space, leading to some vital information being lost on our journey with them. This is difficult to avoid in such a space, so perhaps some extra technical help from microphones might be useful. But this is only an occasional issue, and will likely be ironed out in any of the show’s future incarnations.
This is certainly a show that’s worth seeing. It makes for a rather fun evening out, and is and stands out amongst a theatrical format that’s often stereotyped and lumped together into an indistinguishable pile that doesn’t appear to do anything different. With strong performances and a no-nonsense approach, Amazon Pearl is a cracking piece of shared experience.
The Curse of the Amazon Pearl played at York Theatre Royal’s De Grey Rooms on the 6 and 7 October. For more information about the performance see the York Theatre Royal website.