From some of the team behind the Big HOO-HAA comes an improvised who-dunnit inspired by the works of Agatha Christie. Welcome to Murder Village, where the population is decreasing and each colourful British character is more suspicious than the last. Inspired by audience suggestions, each show is a brand new puzzle with audience votes via a secret ballot determining who lives or dies. I spoke to producer Dave Massingham about the differences between this show and what the Big HOO-HAA do, how the idea of an improvised murder mystery came to be and the kind of fun audiences can expect from this show.
“The Big HOO-HAA! is all about improvising lots of short scenes. Murder Village is one big hour-long whodunnit story, made up on the spot. The audience still gives us suggestions – in this case, the weapon and a tell-tale clue – and we spin the mystery from there”, he said.
Murder Village first came to be when Massingham was performing with ImproMafia in Brisbane a few years back.
“That format had a series of recurring characters that were a lot of fun, but I wanted to make sure that any audience members coming in to the show blind weren’t lost in a myriad of character subplots that had been boiling for years. Murder Village was a chance to take that old format and populate it with new characters and new energy”.
He’s been a fan of the Queen of Crime Fiction, Agatha Christie (who is the highest selling author of all time verify) since he was young.
“No one has come close to toppling her. For me, it’s not just about the clever plotting; it is also about the idiosyncratic early-20th century Englishness, and we definitely aim to capture that feeling in the show. And who doesn’t love a good puzzle? Murder mysteries are so much fun for an audience because they get to play along as the plot unfurls”, Manningham laughed.
Despite being an improvised show, there’s still a rough format and key milestones they hit, from the first half being the lead up to the crime, and the second half the investigation.
“As the audience comes in, they will get to meet the characters that will be involved each night, so there is a bit of a back and forth from the top. More than that, audiences can then vote in a secret ballot to nominate the victim and the killer – but just like Amberly Cull, the improviser playing our Miss Marple-esque sleuth, they won’t know the results of that ballot until the answers are revealed on stage”, Massingham said.
“We have developed the characters with cast. Aside from our detectives, each improviser has a few different Murder Village denizens under their belt that we will be bringing out on different evenings, which will hopefully give the sense of a full living, breathing village. We’ll find out what the relationships between these characters are like in the improvised show! Come multiple nights and you could meet everyone, from the vicar to the butcher to the chairwoman of the village fete society”..
Despite their rampant success, selling out every one of their weekly shows since Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and a riotous fun eight birthday show, the Big HOO-HAA are on break for the Fringe Festival and will be back in October, every Friday night at the Butterfly Club.
“We’ve just decided to focus on our weekly shows this year! We’ve sold out every night since autumn, and we’re very happy with the quality of show we are putting on at the moment, so that focus has paid off as far as we are concerned”, he said.
The Big HOO-HAA! shows are always a highlight of the festivals across Melbourne, but you can catch a number of their talented performers in Murder Village, along with Massingham’s picks for the festival.
“Two members of the original Murder Village cast – Amy Currie and Natalie Bochenski – are flying down from Brisbane to stage their show Love/Hate Actually. It’s a comedy debate on the merits/lack-thereof of that very divisive Christmas standard. A few fellow Big HOO-HAA! players are also putting on shows this festival. Paul Richards has a show called Montreal about professional wrestling. Jeremy Hughes is putting together an improvised rap musical called Rap Rap Rapping on Heaven’s Door, Vidja Rajan is staging a show called Sleepover Gurlz in a different North Melbourne bedroom each night, and Rik Brown is giving Rocky III the Shakespearean treatment in Rocky The Third. Meanwhile, I am also super keen to see Shakespeare get the improvised treatment in Soothplayers”, he said.
If we’re lucky and the season goes well, we might see Murder Village return for further seasons in the future.
“I hope the show feels like a big, bold, funny take on the classic Agatha Christie mystery! We have a cast that is super talented and loves the genre, so I think we can give it a good stab. Pun intended”.
Tickets and more info are available at https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/murder-village/ or https://www.facebook.com/improvisedwhodunnit/.
Images: Mark Gambino