People Show 121: The Detective Show’ is an entertaining and zany deconstruction of the murder mystery genre and theatre company People Show's one hundred and twenty-first show.
Established in 1966, the fringe's longest running alternative troupe are now masters of meta-theatrical japery. The egos of actors, fourth wall conventions and mime are all gleefully lampooned. It's a style that's undoubtedly aimed at those in the know. But this confident clowning is accessible for all – theatre aficionado or not.
We begin with actor Gareth Brierley apologising for divergences in what we're about to see from the copy on the flyer. A suspect has still been accused of murdering the woman he loves, an Agatha Christie tour guide, but in a deviation from the description, he no longer believes he's a fictional detective in a crime novel (an idea that got too complicated in the rehearsal room apparently).
In a plot that's as extraordinary as any Christie novel the three-person cast – including People Show co-founder Mark Long – swap roles in an artfully anarchic fashion. Clichés are mined and then wittily turned on their heads. Interrogations take place over Cluedo and hard-boiled detectives fall in love. It's all very silly and isn't breaking any new ground, but then it isn't trying to.
Things get quite surreal when Hercule Poirot – a deliciously fey Fiona Creese – appears, dancing. But the direct address and frank asides throughout ensure you're never left out of the fun.
By Honour Bayes
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This review by Chris Cresswell, from the show's award winning run at the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe, seems to sum it up well: People Show theatre company has been in existence since 1966, this is show number 121, and it starred one of the original players Mark Long. So. I’ve seen the People Show in a range of performance spaces, in fact any where you can think of that would not be suitable for theatre has been brought alive by their vision and craft. But this was the weirdest space of all, a lecture hall set in a concrete wasteland lashed by unforgivingly lively Edinburgh rain. The space was a challenge, a somewhat thrust stage with the outline of a body marked in white tape and what looked like the set for a kitchen sink drama. The start was disarmingly easy, a welcome to the three actors introduced to us by Gareth Brierly, a self deprecating cheeky host who had a touch of the Hugh Grants about him with none of the foolish foppery but all the world weary charm, an introduction to the ethos of the show, a discussion about the publicity and whether it would reflect everything that had been promised and even if it didn’t would it really matter, no, it wouldn’t matter. As it turns out, nothing really mattered but the sterling performances of the three actors who led us at a breakneck pace through a piece of diverting detective based novel nonsense, there was a story, you could probably make quite a good film out of it but the story never mattered, there was a dazzling variety of characters, mainly signified by hats, including a Poirot who reminded me of Frank Sidebottom, an idiosyncratic Italian waiter whose legwork is worth the entrance fee alone, flyshit, furry tables, seagull salad and a missing Agatha Christie, Fiona Creese beavering away in the background, keeping the whole thing on an even keel and occasionally just sitting like Whistlers’ mother, waiting patiently for her next contribution. She would be played by Susan Sarandon in the movie version. There was farce, there was even mime, don’t worry, not much and it was fine. It was entertainment, light weight yes but you can’t play that lightweight schtick unless you know what you’re doing.