The Detective’s Handbook

This musical pastiche of hardboiled crime fiction and film noir is a rivetingly good show.
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Photo credit: Clare Hawley

The type of toe-tapping fun that appeals to all ages, I seriously doubt anyone seeing The Detective’s Handbook will leave the theatre without a smile on their face.

An original, musical, farcical take on Chandler-esque, noir crime fiction, the production shifts between two detectives (Rob Johnson and Justin Smith) tracking down clues to a murder and variety-style musical refrains from its supporting cast. In one of the play’s many asides, two police officers (Lara Mulcahy and Christpher Horsey, the latter of whom also served as choreographer) almost stole the show with an inspired tap-dancing sequence set to the mundane tunes of dreary police admin and report writing.

Johnson superbly channels Michael Crawford as the lead detective and devotee of the titular handbook. Playing delightfully off the well-worn tropes of fictional sleuthing, whole gags are fleshed out from finding an address on a set of matches, or ‘throwing the book’ at someone in one of the play’s many humour-filled moments. The jokes hover mostly between wordplay, one-liners and light irony; nothing too subversive and wholly befitting the play’s charming tone, with even obvious gags delivering hefty laughs.  

Sheridan Harbridge stands out as three separate characters she sometimes (very quickly) has to jump between, most notably the femme fatale figure who heralds one of the show’s best numbers. Trading excellently off the well-known hallmarks of the genre, there will be a few easter eggs for followers of Hammett and the like to pick out, while the production also skewers the typically singular-focused treatment of female roles in the canon, with every one of the non-male characters sporting the same name.

With an upbeat and delectable score, the production is nevertheless unfortunately rushed in parts, most noticeably within the opening sequences. There are a lot of great gags that barely give the audience time to register before they’re on to the next punchline or song, while many of the musical numbers give sparing reprieves between acts, ultimately having the effect of blending too many of the sequences together.

A quick-paced production worth savouring, it’s just that too quick in parts to really cotton on to each and every thing evolving on stage. In spite of this, The Detective’s Handbook barely misses the mark and is altogether a rivetingly good show.   

4 stars out of 5

New Musicals Australia and Hayes Theatre Co present
The Detective’s Handbook
Book & Lyrics by Ian Ferrington
Music by Olga Solar
Director: Jonathan Biggins
Musical Director: Michael Tyack
Choreographer: Christopher Horsey
Set & Costume Designer: James Browne
Lighting Designer: Sian James-Holland
Sound Designer: Jeremy Silver
Executive Producer: Neil Gooding
Starring: Justin Smith, Sheridan Harbridge, Rob Johnson, Lara Mulcahy, Tony Cogin, Christopher Horsey

Hayes Theatre, Potts Point
21 April – 7 May 2016

Glen Falkenstein
About the Author
Glen produces film, theatre and television reviews and commentary, covering festivals, interviews and events. Glen lives in Sydney and enjoys making short films. Read more at