You may be familiar with Murder Village: An Improvised Whodunnit; the show has popped up, with a rotating cast, at comedy festivals since 2016. Its longevity is ensured in part by its simple-but-intriguing premise: in the 1950s, four caricature-like characters are interconnected. One will die, and one will be the killer.
Just before the show began, audience members were encouraged to scan a QR code and vote for the victim, the culprit and a viable-for-the-era weapon (the night that I attended, it was a roasted leg of lamb) via a Google Doc. Over the course of an hour, a series of organic interactions would tip us off, or mislead us, as to the outcome.
The bowels of The Butterfly Club, choked with kitschy tchotchkes and askew pictures, was the perfect venue for Murder Village. Live piano, delicate and skittish, preserved the show’s tension, and was balanced out by the comicality of Miss Jemima “Jammy” Marmalade (Amberly Cull) and Detective Inspector Owen Gullet (David Massingham), two sleuths so specifically mannered and tailored they seem transplanted from a board game. Their commentary kept the story from getting too off-track.
But whether a steadily on-track and plausible story equates to successful improv is questionable. When I headed to Murder Village after a long day, I anticipated a rollercoaster of dialogue, a level of ridiculousness that would wake me right up. I got that in parts, but generally actors stuck to fairly tame, unsurprising executions of their characters, causing the show to feel less daring and unpremeditated than an unrefined play. The clearest exception was Rik Brown as the ‘passionate poet’, Percival Worthington, who never relinquished his gusto or adventurousness, without defying the nature of his character.
Improv is a slippery undertaking, inherently a gamble for the actors and the audience alike. Future iterations of Murder Village could live up to the potential of its form. And even if they don’t, seeing it may beat rewatching a sitcom.
Murder Village; An Improvised Whodunnit was performed at the Butterfly Club from 3-13 April 2023 as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.