The Sparrow Men, Marcus Willis and Andy Balloch, ask the audience to be amateur detectives and solve a murder on the luxury cruiser ‘The Pacific Diamond’.

The mostly ‘Improvisation’ duo perform their brilliantly written parody at The Improv Conspiracy Theatre for The Melbourne Fringe Festival.

The audience anticipation of being recruited on stage dispersed into laughter at the sight of Andy Balloch as the cruise’s headlining act, singer Dame Elizabeth Heinrich.  His legs rival the Eurovision winner ‘Conchita’ in a royal blue, off-the-shoulder gown and his beard complimented his hairy chest.  Dame Heinrich never finishes her song in a haphazard German accent, as she becomes the victim of murder.

Balloch and Willis appear as detectives on the case.  They are one of the multiple characters the Sparrow Men play in this engaging piece.  Balloch is superb as the straight no-nonsense ‘good-cop’ whilst Willis is a hoot as the goofy and slightly corrupt ‘bad-cop’.  The Sparrow Men alternate as detectives, passengers, the Captain, and crew of the ship.

The well-scripted show should come with a warning for jaw ache from copious amounts of smiling and laughter.  Their jovial and genius ‘improv’ is ever present when they forget lines in the script.

The Sparrow Men have crafted a show with non-invasive, audience participation.

No one was dragged up onto stage, we were simply asked by the detectives to observe the main suspects; the three wickedly funny couples who’ve been upgraded to VIP suites on the cruise.  Later we’re invited to clap for which couple we wish to interrogate.  The Sparrow Men give side-splitting answers to the audience questions, always keeping in line with their script.

The first couple was a pair of elderly dithering gay gentlemen and one of them has a dying wish to ‘take someone with him when he goes’.  Then we met a wealthy couple the Buchanan’s, who are clearly not impressed with their accommodation, the ‘second-best’ suite aboard.  Finally, there were the Russians, a husband-and-wife-team of assassins.  They’re the most obvious suspects.  The couple can’t relax and ‘leave work at home’, their luggage contains weapons and ‘booby-trap’ devices.

The background storyline and characters were believable.  The elderly gentlemen had delightful antics of forgetfulness that gave credence to the performance, as did the overly amorous ‘rich’ couple having to ‘slum it’ and ‘be poor’ in the Executive Suite. The stereotyped Russian couple was absurdly funny.

Both Balloch and Willis played all the supporting cast in their original script.  Willis is hysterical as the over zealous ship’s Captain, the ditzy Scottish Maître d’ and arrogant French Chef.  Balloch’s quit wit and penchant for accents is entertaining as the Dame, Russian, and the Pacific Diamond’s dedicated and forlorn female Doctor.

The interrogation is interrupted to try and throw the audience of amateur detectives off the trail when the Doctor (Balloch) and the Captain (Willis) break into song with a humorous and off-key version of Meatloaf’s, I Would do Anything for Love.

The Sparrow Men managed the cosy Improv Conspiracy Theatre.  The talented duo switched easily between 13 characters from behind a tiny flat that was no bigger than a French door.

The players and production team fueled the hilarity with a comical skit of actions and sound effects that were mostly in sync.  The laughter was infectious when the players and technicians couldn’t keep straight faces and control their outbursts of laughter.

The plot and lines were so funny there was little time to stop laughing before the next gag.  Murder on the Pacific Diamond; A ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ is a marvelous experience.