The Murder of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd  

Where: The Masque, 37 Main Rd, Muizenberg
When: November 3-18, 2023
Performances: November 3, 4, 8, 9, 10, 11, 15, 16, 17 and 18 at 19h30 Matinees at 14h30 on November 4, 5, 11, 12 and 18 
Tickets: From R120  
Bookings: Via Quicket
Discounted bookings: 10 tickets or more – contact
The Masque Box Office: Open from 9am to 2pm every Wednesday  

Adaption: Stephan Fourie and Faeron Wheeler- from Agatha Christie’s 1926 novel, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd  

Producers: Joint production between The Masque and Cape Town Theatre Company    

The Murder of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is a joint production between The Masque and Cape Town Theatre Company and is a wonderful way to decompress as we approach the festive season. I loved watching this innovative and fresh adaption of Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926). It is a masterclass as to how to stage a whodunnit- with energy and verve. Do you think that whodunnits on stage are sedate, static and mannered? No- not this one. The production is a rollicking rollercoaster of fun- with wacky props and costumes -underpinned by a clever and wry conceptual arc.

The production kicks off as we see an amateur dramatic society staging Agatha Christie’s novel, with Moira the Director (played by Bernie Jacobs Gordon), merrily apologising for the wonky start and promising that they will do their best with “their limited abilities”. I love the meta text that runs through the production- bouncing and reflecting off itself.

The Masque and Cape Town Theatre Company are part of the so called amdram sector (amateur dramatics). I am not a fan of the tag “amateur” but Faeron Wheeler embraces the term. She is dramaturg and co-adapted the Agatha Christie novel with Stephan Fourie for this production: A “love letter” to those who do theatre for the love of it – without being paid. I note my discomfit with the term, “amateur”. Many of the players in amdram, community theatre, whatever you want to call it, have trained in theatre and have degrees and qualifications.  Many have worked in professional productions (ie being paid). They are not “amateur” as in “incompetent” or “inferior”.  The same goes for countless individuals who do not have theatre qualifications and have learned on the boards – in multiple theatre sectors. Sure, standards vary in “non-professional” theatre, in terms of the resources to stage productions and the availability of actors. It depends on the team behind each production – the same way as it depends about productions – in the professional theatre sector. Not every production finds its mark.  

Faeron Wheeler works seamlessly across professional and non-professional theatre. She brings excellence to everything that she does. Several of her productions have won awards – “professional” theatre awards. Just saying. Her skill as dramaturg is evidenced in The Murder of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd which takes the mickey out of “amdram” and takes ownership of the genre – by spoofing off the stuff that can and does go wrong behind the scenes, with a dramatic society, trying to put on a show and let’s face it, without the financial and tech resources of professional theatre.

The Murder of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is a play within a play. The wings are exposed, stripped back to reveal what goes on behind the scenes. We see backstage areas including the wardrobe suite and the table with Laura, the stage manager (played by Linda Steele), sitting with the props and other dinghus. We see what goes on in the wings as the players cavort backstage (nudge, nudge, say no more) and wait for their cues and how they deal with things when it goes wrong – a door not opening – the wrong prop. They grimace and gesture to each other and the stage manager.

Laura, the stage manager is also responsible for the sound effects – known as Foley in a cinema context- which enhance and exaggerate sounds- usually post-production. In this production, the sounds heighten the madcap action on stage – and imbues a filmic quality to the production as the scenes play out, signalling important shifts in the narrative and helping us to follow the story. For me the production riffs off whodunnits in film. I am thinking of The Pink Panther series, starring Peter Sellers, with the wonderful theme music by Henry Mancini. Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther was based on Christie’s famous character, Inspector Hercule Poirot. Poirot is very much in the frame in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and is played by Darren Moore in this production. Linda Steele as the stage manager is a scream as she lumbers on and off stage – placing and retrieving props- fixing walls  which fall down- the stuff that goes wrong. The set is a wonder – chandeliers wonkily descending, curtain not going up when it should, walls falling in and out- fabulous. Bravo to Daniel Enticott (set construction) and Simon Dutton (set engineering) for the creating the extraordinary set – with limited resources.

I was not familiar with the story of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I googled it – minus the ending. I did not want to know what happens but thought it would be good to know the bare bones of the plot. I was flummoxed and thought – “right – let’s see what happens on stage”. Well, the adaption by Stephan Fourie and Faeron Wheeler demystifies the complicated plot, twists, turns and signature Agatha Christie red herrings and then delivers the big reveal – with aplomb. I had no idea until the reveal as to whodunnit. I won’t plot spoil.

The actors deliver delicious performances. There are a mash up of accents- High Brit English, South African etc. I loved this. Again it feeds into non-professional theatre – where there may not be the funds for a dialect coach as there is in professional theatre (with budget). Some may get the accent and others may bungle it. In this production, the unevenness of nailing accents is heightened and it works brilliantly.

I was bowled over by Masque’s recent production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (another non-paying gig for the actors and creatives) and The Murder of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (co-production with Cape Town Theatre Company) has done same for me- wowing me. It is an impressive production – concept, staging and performances. I applaud all those creatives who make theatre for the love of it – without remuneration. The Murder of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd  is a must see.

Whodunnit hilarity: The Murder of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – a co-production between The Masque and Cape Town Theatre Company, on November 3-18, 2023 at The Masque in Cape Town. Pic: Martin Kluge- supplied.

✳ Photos by Martin Kluge- supplied.