WHAT is The Killer Question? The answer will come on Saturday when Silence Of The Lambs meets Last Of The Summer Wine in Just Some Theatre’s dark comedy thriller at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York.
In the latest touring show from the Manchester company behind 2013’s Coward and 2017’s The Doppelgang, former game show champion Walter Crump lives for murder.
It was even his specialist subject on the nerve-shredding general knowledge quiz show The Chair, but did his obsession with death ultimately lead to his own? Inspector Black certainly believes so, and now Crump’s dopey widow, Margaret, finds herself in the chair, accused of her husband’s murder.
However, as shocking details emerge concerning the events leading to Walter’s final head-to-head, it soon transpires that what started out as an open-and-shut case has turned into another game altogether: one of the cat and mouse variety, with more than one deadly twist in the tale.
Will Inspector Black solve the mystery? Will Margaret be home in time for Countryfile? Who will prove to be the ultimate victim of The Chair? Questions, so many questions, but there will be one more: which actor will play which character? Saturday’s audience in the John Cooper Studio will decide.
Those actors in question in Dave Payne’s 95-minute thriller will be University of Central Lancashire alumni Peter Stone, Jake Urry and Jordan Moore, now settled into an autumn tour of Alex Tole’s production from September 18 to November 4.
“In 2019, we did a script call-out and received over 300 scripts,” recalls Peter. “We worked our way through them all – it took a very long time! – and then The Killer Question script turned up and we thought, ‘it’s brilliant, but it’s way out of our casting bracket’ because it features an elderly couple in their 70s and a retiring policeman.
“We’re all in our 30s, so it’s obviously a big stretch, but then we thought, ‘if we were to do it in a League Of Gentlemen style, then it would suit us. It turned out Dave wrote it after seeing an episode of Inside No. 9 [the BBC Two dark comedy series created by League Of Gentlemen’s Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton].”
Playwright Payne, “a fantastic Midlands-based writer and producer for BBC Radio 4’s The Archers”, brings “a lot of humour and style from that show”, as well as from his sketch-writing for the CBBC comedy Class Dismissed, to Just Some Theatre’s biggest project to date, working with director Alex Tole for the first time.
“When it came to choosing who we should each play, we all liked them all, and I rather foolishly said, ‘why don’t we all play all of them, with the audience getting to decide who we play each night?’.
“We all agreed, and that now gives the start a game-show feel, a quiz show-feel, where we give a brief introduction to ourselves and the characters, thought we don’t give too much away, and then the audience have to hold up a programme, with one face per page, to cast their votes for that night’s roles.
“Because they’re three very archetypal characters, we each bring something different to them, but they’re all very loveable, though we do each have the same favourite! We all love playing Margaret.
“The other day I had to drive around Manchester dressed as Margaret – and yes, I did get some funny looks!”
After breaking down the fourth wall with that informal start, Just Some Theatre’s cast then “well and truly build it up again” for the mystery thriller. “That’s one of the challenges. It requires us to perform in two different styles,” says Peter.
Just Some Theatre will be making their Theatre@41 debut. “Alan Park, from the York theatre, saw the show on the Lowry theatre website, and said to us, ‘hey, it looks great, would you bring it over here?’,” recalls Peter.
“It fitted us perfectly because we needed one more date to complete the tour and we needed one in that area. York was perfect; we’ve always wanted to perform there.
“Theatre@41, being in a former church hall, will really lend itself to the grandiose, slightly off-kilter world we’re creating.”
Like so many theatre companies, Just Some Theatre have had to skate their way through the cracks and crevices of these pandemic times, receiving an Emergency Response Grant from Arts Council to cover costs for six months.
“That meant we could look at how we were working and how we could employ others to work with us, and so we employed 50 creatives for a Forward Dialogue project: 11 writers; ten scripts; ten directors, and a sea of actors, working online as part of that first wave of Zoom theatre,” says Peter.
“The final piece that ‘won’ the event, was called Happy!, written by Charlotte Souter and directed by Amy Burns Walker, a familiar name to York theatre audiences. They created something truly unique that was really fabulous to see, with one actor ‘passing’ the same prop via the camera to the other actor ‘receiving it’. Brilliant!”
Ironically, just before the Covid cloud descended, Just Some Theatre had been touring a post-apocalyptic comedy about The Four Horsemen, who teamed up to create their own little virus. “Then Covid killed off that tour halfway through, just as we were about to start doing some shows for Cheshire Rural Arts Touring, after doing our urban dates. By that stage, if someone coughed, everyone fell silent, though the show was supposed to be a comedy.”
Tickets for Saturday’s 7.30pm performance of Just Some Theatre’s The Killer Question cost £12 at tickets.41monkgate.co.uk/events/.