People Show is the longest running alternative theatre company in the UK. It has been producing its distinctive zany, meta-theatrical work since 1966, and is now performing its one hundred and twenty-first show at the Old Red Lion Theatre, which even has founding member, Mark Long, in the cast.
Despite the eccentric and kooky nature of the show, this spoof murder mystery remains open to even the least theatrically minded; details such as the fourth wall are carefully explained to be accessible to an unfamiliar audience, whilst providing many a laugh in the explanation. At the same time, the overarching narrative remains utterly confusing, and at points makes no sense at all, which simply serves to add to the hilarity of the show, the result of which is a dynamic, and quite frankly surreal, evening of entertainment as we watch them attempt to unravel the mystery of a dead tour guide who specialises in Agatha Christie.
The cast of three – Fiona Creese, Gareth Brierley and Long – multi-role a host of characters and fast-paced sketches to deliver a complete deconstruction of the typical murder mystery form. To begin with, their characters are eccentric enough on their own to complement the wacky plot – Creese often appears as a silent Hercule Poirot with a paper bag over her head – but they are also constantly shifting back to their real selves which adds another layer of complication and amusement as we watch them battle each other for the spotlight and the right to address the audience from the fluffy stool, which is mostly dominated by Brierley as he narrates, and makes some sense of, the action for us. In addition, the show is crammed full of unexpected quirks – there’s a missing body, an undercover agent who is also a prime suspect, a dodgy Italian restaurant where the name ‘seagull salad’ is taken literally and a female detective who takes bites out of her polystyrene cup whenever she has a new lead. That’s just the silliness of it though – there appears to be a never-ending number of new leads which in fact don’t lead anywhere but to more confusion and a further complicated mystery.
The denouement is thus entirely unexpected, and refreshingly so. There is some tenuous and bizarre connection that just about holds it all together, but amongst the laughs, high energy and hilarity provided – especially by Long – it’s not too much of a stretch to just go with it.
People Show 121: The Detective Show is at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 2 November. For more information and tickets visit the Old Red Lion’s website.