The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society Murder Mystery
Murder at Checkmate Manor
By David McGillivray & Walter Zerlin Jr

Oct 30th - Nov 2nd 2002

The Stevenage Lytton Players performed Farndale - Murder at Checkmate Manor at The Lytton Theatre from Wednesday 30th October 2002, until Saturday 2nd November 2002.

Directed by Bob Sage

About the Play
The play was first produced at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe on August 18th, 1980 With a cast of six and was directed by and featured David McGillivray, and designed by Walter Zerlin Jnr and Gerald Tagg.

Following several re-writes, often being hurriedly rushed to societies approaching their opening night, the authors published, to everyone’s relief, the revised edition which incorporates all the alterations and additional pieces of business, little or large, invented during four professional productions over the intervening years. The authors have graciously consented to do no further re-writing, which had up until then included such revisions as Sylvia having a sex change, the removal of a piece of awkward stage business to another play altogether, and a more precise explanation of the chair-moving routine in Act II which had hitherto been a director’s nightmare!

This revised version was first produced at The Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon on 14th March, 1988 with a reduced cast of five and Directed and Designed as before .

The Farndale Ladies tackle this Agatha Christie-style romp with great aplomb. The usual gathering of likely and unlikely characters at Checkmate Manor assembling for the reading of a Will soon leads to murder – but who committed it? All sorts of suspects abound (each of course with more than adequate motive) – from the obvious ‘was it Pawn the Butler?’ to Régine the French Maid, who is not all she seems, via an improbable cast of Bishops, Rooks and Kings. Was the family solicitor, Mr Goodbody, somehow implicated? Bodies start to pile up all over the place and Inspector O’Reilly is faced with one of his most testing cases to date to bring the culprit to justice.

Led by their indomitable Chair, Mrs Reece, the Ladies maintain the suspense right to the very end. And just to make the price of admission extra-specially worth it, they have even arranged not only a Fashion Show for the more discerning audience, but a who-dunnit quiz for all to enjoy while helping O’Reilly bring the murderer to book.

The Characters

  • Gordon
Playing Inspector O’Reilly
  • Felicity
Playing Pawn, a butler; Colonel King, Lady Bishop’s brother-in-law
  • Audrey
Playing Lady Doreen Bishop, a widow; Violet Bishop, her spinster aunt; Mrs King, the Colonel’s wife; Joan Bishop, Lady Bishop’s cousin
  • Mrs Reece
Playing Clarissa Rook, Lady Bishop’s sister; Régine, the French maid; Patricia Bishop, Lady Bishop’s niece; Letitia Bishop, her sister; Mr Goodbody, a solicitor
  • Thelma
Playing Daphne Bishop, Lady Bishop’s daughter; Rose Bishop, her spinster aunt

About the Authors
David McGillivray and Walter Zerlin, Jr. have written many plays in the Farndale series. Zerlin’s mother was the inspiration for the Farndale concept: “My mother had been in her drama group for years,” he has said. “I always remember seeing her in shows with women playing men’s parts, and doing it dreadfully. But throughout it all was the fun and drive they had, no matter what problem beset them.” After seeing one of his mother’s performances, Zerlin with McGillivray concocted The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society’s Production of Macbeth.

That show premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1976 and launched the pair on a long relationship with the Farndale ladies which has since included not only our current production but the snappily-titled The Farndale Follies, Chase Me Up Farndale Avenue, S’il Vous Plait; We Found Love and Adventure and an Exquisite Set of Porcelain Figurines Aboard the S.S. Farndale Avenue; The Haunted Through Lounge and Recessed Dining Nook at Farndale Castle; They Came From Mars and Landed Outside the Farndale Church Hall In Time for the Townswomen’s Guild’s Coffee Morning; and The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Operatic Society’s Production of The Mikado. We eagerly await publication of the Ladies’ version of Peter Pan, as we consider flying members of the cast in our auditorium to be the ultimate challenge for our technical crew!

Past Lyttons’ Farndale Productions
This will be the Society’s 5th production of a Farndale play – all of them directed by Bob Sage, who is quick to stress that he doesn’t have a Lyttons’ monopoly over them, just that they are such wonderful fun that he wants to do them all before he retires!

As it happens, the Murder Mystery was the first play in the series that the Lyttons tackled – so long ago now that Bob won’t admit to when, but it was quite some time back in the 1980’s. Audiences for this year’s show who saw the earlier one will recognise the plot and some of the characters, although the play has changed substantially, having been revised and re-written several times by the authors until they arrived at the ‘definitive’ version we shall perform this time. 1989 saw the Ladies’ foray into ‘Macbeth’, followed in 1992 by our production of their rendition of Dickens’ classic ‘Christmas Carol’. All these productions were on our own stage at the Lytton Theatre, but in 1998 we were delighted to perform on the stage at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage as part of that year’s Stevenage Festival with ‘Chase me up Farndale Avenue, s’il vous plait!’ – a French Farce with farcical results!

Some Critical Impressions
“You may think that no actors could possibly be as unmitigatedly awful as the Farndale Ladies. Perhaps they couldn’t. But if they did exist, they’d definitely be British”
David McGillivray, one of the play’s Authors

“Be prepared for an onslaught of utter incompetence”
“Unmitigatedly awful”
“A Comedy about a doomed attempt to stage a silly play”
“You need to have some pretty good performers to act that badly ….. performing multiple roles in a madcap series of changed costumes”
“Unmitigatedly awful”
“Their incompetence is legendary. It is very British and this is one of the funniest shows you will ever see”
“The cast of five breeze in and out of some 16 very distinct and equally colourful male and female characters”
“Unmitigatedly awful”
“I highly suggest you get to this show and be prepared to laugh from beginning to end”