April 23, 2018
Guy MacPherson for The Georgia Straight
Murder on the Improv Express’s comedy slays, and the costumes, set, and soundtrack are killer, too
Vancouver TheatreSports League has mounted another killer show that slays the audience. Not literally, natch, but in more than one way.
In Murder on the Improv Express, a takeoff on the 84-year-old murder mystery by Agatha Christie, one lucky spectator gets to do a scene with the cast before, not so luckily, getting offed. But, hey, you pays your money and you takes your chances.
Actually, no audience member is hurt in the making of this very funny show. It’s a great concept, brought to VTSL by alum Diana Frances, expertly produced by the company, and directed by Nathan Clark. It takes place on a cross-Canada train trip in the 1930s and the set decoration and costumes are aces. Great soundtrack from the era, too.
Detective Poirot is onboard, as played on this night by Allen Morrison. The famous investigator is, of course, Hercule, but Morrison kept referring to his character as Henri, either by design or mistake. Either way, it didn’t matter; he had the twirly moustache and French accent down pat, with more comedic chops than any other portrayer of the great Belgian.
With his legendary deductive reasoning, Poirot/Morrison narrowed down the list of suspects to six. Coincidentally, there were six other actors on-stage: Angela Galanopoulos, who played a minxy movie star; Michael Teigen, an orphan who couldn’t close his mouth; Denise Jones and Andrew Barber, who were burlesque performers; Pearce Visser, an American gummy-bear salesman; and Margret Nyfors, a dour Communist and the minister of cats. So much charisma and personality on-stage at one time. Like the 2017 and 1974 film, Thursday night’s showing also boasted an all-star cast.
In their brief interaction with audience member Paul, each character established a possible motive for why they might wish to get rid of him, but we were as much in the dark as H. Poirot was as to who really dunnit.
An Endowment Scene (a classic improv game in which a character leaves the set and has to work out clues when he or she reappears) helped bring real mystery to the proceedings. Morrison left the stage and each suspect was given a quality by the crowd, be it an activity, an object, or an occupation. When the great detective returned none the wiser, his interrogations, along with some sly references from the improvisers, brought him to a clear understanding of each suspect’s “secrets”, egged on by oohs and aahs from the knowing patrons.
There will be no spoilers here, but if you’ve read the story or seen any of the movies, you might be able to guess the outcome. But it’s all beside the point. The improvisers all murdered with their quick wits and outlandish characterizations.