It's all a mystery to me...
Murder Weekends can become addictive but, for VG Lee, playing a Scottish solicitor with a moustache and a sherry problem was murderous
So, can I take that as a ‘yes’ for a part in my Murder Mystery evening?’
‘You can indeed, Deirdre,’ I tell her. ‘I was an unforgettable Mr Toad in my school production of Wind In The Willows.’
‘That was some years ago,’ she says dryly. ‘I’ll pop the details in the post. Please read, learn and digest.’
For those of you who have never been to a Murder Mystery evening, the first thing to understand is that your host/hostess takes the evening very seriously indeed, which is good – because nobody else does.
This is what happens. Several weeks in advance you will receive a telephone call or email to check your availability. The game has a cast of characters so only a finite number of guests are required. Too many and someone has to pretend to be a person of no importance, like Man-in-pub, Scullery Maid or Local Bystander. Too few guests, and confusion reigns. It’s hard enough to keep in the character of a Northern self-made businessman without having to also cover as a fiery French chanteuse in the style of Edith Piaf!
Deirdre’s details arrive in a bulky envelope. With an expectant smile hovering around my lips I let the Rules, Story Outline and my Confidential Personal History booklet flutter to the floor as I unfold the list of characters. I’m intrigued. Who does Deirdre think I’m best suited to play? I certainly expect to have a significant role. I am tall, almost slim with rather challenging blue eyes. I could play any part suitable for Vanessa Redgrave or Dame Maggie Smith; even Joanna Lumley at a push and with the loan of a blonde wig.
My character is the last on the list, marked with a red felt-tip cross and the words, ‘I expect you to adhere to the script,’ written in the margin.
Donald Dawson: tall, cadaverous family solicitor to the Binko family. He is Glaswegian, taciturn with a moustache and an oily smile. Costume: dark suit, crumpled shirt and grease-stained tie.
I quickly read through the other parts, then ring Deirdre. She answers instantly as if waiting by the phone for my call.
‘Now look here…’ I remonstrate.
‘I’m sorry,’ she snaps. ‘You can’t be May-Beth Tungsten – tall, Texan and untameable. You’re nowhere near the right age.’
The second thing to appreciate is that you will rarely be given a role you consider worthy of your many talents. However in a very short time, you may find yourself daydreaming, as I did, on your costume and how to turn your minor role into a star part, culminating in the entire Murder Mystery cast slapping you on the back and declaring that you should audition for a West End musical.
‘Hmm,’ I mused as I tried to persuade Boysie Bruce-Willis (cat) to take his worming tablet. ‘I could borrow the suit my brother bought for dad’s funeral in 1987. Might source a DVD of Taggart when Taggart was Taggart, to get the Glaswegian accent.’
For the first time in my life I’m wearing a moustache. A guest, sporting a trilby hat and camel coat says, ‘You look reet tasty wi’ that moustache, bonnie lass.’
‘I’d rather I didn’t,’ I reply stiffly before remembering that I’m from Glasgow. ‘Och away wi’ you,’ I say with an oily smile.
I spot Deirdre. She is an ageing but still glamorous German-born opera singer, Helga Stromboli, who is horribly jealous of the beautiful and young mezzo-soprano, Barbara Binko.
‘I don’t suit a moustache, do I?’
‘Gott in Himmel!’ Deirdre snaps, ‘Can’t talk now, I need to find my agent, Mungo Fitzwilliams, to discuss what we were doing in the Puccini Bar between 7 and 9pm.’
I go into the kitchen and take out my bottle of Dry Sack sherry, which is solicitor Donald Dawson’s favourite tipple. Fill a wine glass.
Caution! Yes, you may have been promised a Murder Mystery threecourse dinner constructed around The Murder, The Investigation and The Denouement, but eat before you go. In all the excitement of impersonating someone, food will become secondary to alcohol!
Deirdre rushes past, waving a copy of The Rules in the air, ‘Can we all take our seats in the dining room?’
Obediently, we follow in her slipstream and assemble at the table. Deirdre slaps down a vat of pea and yogurt dip surrounded by artistically arranged sticks of carrot and celery. We open our individual scripts. Tension runs high.
Deirdre clasps her hands almost in prayer. ‘Lights, camera, action!’ (She is a keen member of the local Film Society.)
Man in trilby/Mungo Fitzwilliams: ‘Helga.’ He looks at me.
I shake my head.
‘Does she look like a Helga Stromboli? I’m over here, Mungo,’ Deirdre calls out.
Barbara Binko: ‘When do I come in, Deirdre?’
Deirdre/Helga: ‘Not till page three, Fraulein Binko.’ Mungo: ‘Helga, my precious pearl, have you ever known me to play you false?’ Tall, Texan and untameable, May- Beth Tungsten: ‘Who wrote this rubbish?’
Deirdre/Helga: ‘Can we please keep to the script?’
I concentrate on keeping my moustache and oily smile in place as Barbara Binko’s fiancé is discovered slumped over the wheel of his vintage Lotus Elan, a silver-handled knife embedded between his shoulder blades.
NB: Anyone expecting gritty realism as seen in television dramas will be very disappointed. First policeman: ‘Your solicitor Donald Dawson is here, Miss Binko.’ Barbara Binko: ‘I’m too distraught to see anyone.’
First policeman: ‘He’s the best solicitor this side of Loch Lomond.’
BB: Sobs hysterically.
Donald Dawson: ‘That’s noo way to carry on, ma puir bairn, do you no ken the noo?’
Deirdre/Helga, slapping her forehead: Your line is ‘Good evening, everyone.’
Three hours later, we discover that May-Beth Tungsten is the murderess, Mungo Fitzwilliams is asleep with his head on the tablecloth, and I have a raging Dry Sack sherry headache.
Daily tip from the lady archive
“PEOPLE cannot help being influenced by their surroundings and their environment; therefore how all important it is that both of these should be healthy and cheery, for health and happiness both go hand-in-hand.”The Lady. The Blessing of Old Health, 18th November 1920