It’s every director’s nightmare: opening night of a play you wrote and have spent weeks pulling together and no less than seven actors call in sick. Understudies? This is amateur theatre. All you’ve got is two actors and imagination. This is the premise of Midnight Murder at Hamlington Hall, a new production about to premiere at Ensemble Theatre.
Conceived, written and partially performed by Mark Kilmurry (who also directs) and Jamie Oxenbould, Midnight Murder at Hamlington Hall is an hilarious yet love-filled farce drawing on 43 years in the theatre.
“When Jamie and I first started thinking of ideas we talked about all the incidents we knew of or have lived through. There are many! And when the cast arrived in workshops, we chatted about all our own experiences,” explains Kilmurry.
“Some real-life inspiration came from watching my parents perform amateur theatre growing up. There are some scars,” adds Oxenbould.
In the play, Shane Tweed is a director with amateur theatre company, the Middling Cove Players. Tweed has written a murder mystery, Midnight Murder at Hamlington Hall, which the company is about to debut. But, alas, seven actors are struck down with illness and only two remain.
The company manages to enlist some random fill-ins and through multiple role-playing, clever use of props and sheer determination, they put on a hotchpotch version of Tweed’s play.
Missed cues, wardrobe malfunctions, miscast non-actors, and frayed nerves all contribute to the humour, helped along by disasterous production mishaps.
“We have a great team of creatives led by Simon Greer, our set & costume designer, with Daryl Wallis on sound and Verity Hampson on lights, who all contribute hugely to the idea of things going wrong,” says Kilmurry. “Sound and lights and set are dangerous things in the wrong hands of a company short on actors in our fictional amateur world of the Middling Cove Players.”
While the show is definitely written for laughs, Kilmurry and Oxenbould can’t help but imbue the characters with deep, genuine emotions and one or two sombre moments. Their own amateur theatre battle scars and those of the cast and crew have informed the production and they hope the play evinces empathy as much as mirth.
“In our world, we do theatre as a job. It’s our living and a craft. In the amateur world it’s a passion and a hobby. I am amazed people can work all day in one job and then, say, play Hedda Gabler at night for no money!” says Kilmurry.
“Yes, our play logline is: A show about passionate, unexpected people, doing what they love, against all odds,” agrees Oxenbould.