From Law & Order to True Detective to The Killing to Top of the Lake, modern murder mysteries abound. There's a victim, or several, a few bad guys, or one really bad guy, and then the astute/quirky/neurotic dedicated detectives who investigate these vicious felonies. Dun Dun.
Accomplice director Susie Hallatt says that in a day and age where streaming and binge watching whodunnits is as ubiquitous as craft popcorn and boxed wine, "it's difficult to set an audience up and surprise them."
Hallatt, though, who has performed in numerous plays in the U.S. and England, is up to the task of presenting this tight, witty British farce, promising to keep the audience guessing even after they've left the theater. "It's sort of like Russian nesting dolls," says Hallatt, "You'll think you have it figured out, and there goes the head. It's a very layered piece."
In a one set, four actor comedic thriller, timing is everything. "We've been on a journey of discovery," says Hallatt. "The actors will say 'Oh wow, did you realize this happens here?' In a first read through we even had one actor reading the wrong part!"
Rupert Holmes, the British-American playwright and composer behind Accomplice, left Hansel and Gretel-like crumbs throughout the script, instructing the actors and director with subtle cues. "Holmes is really meticulous in how he wants the play presented," says Hallatt, "Explaining, 'This character can't give this away, don't overplay this.' We're working really hard to fine tune it, to make those transitions work."
- Christiana Davies
- Flowertown promises that you'll be on the edge of your seat for Accomplice, a comedic thriller featuring just one set and four actors.
And, with only one set, the stage must become more than just a stage — it must be a dynamic piece capable of concealing twists and turns. Every Flowertown stage is built from the ground up, then taken down and reused in various ways for other productions. "This might be one of my favorite sets," says Flowertown executive director Courtney Bates, "Just because of the dimensions, it makes it look a lot bigger than it is."
The stage is two stories, and the first floor is broken up into different levels, with a side table, elaborate fireplace, chaise lounge, bar area, all set at different heights. It makes the audience feel, and this is of course the goal, as if they're not watching four strangers act out a play on a dressed up stage. It makes them feel that yes, they are being transported to an old, renovated mill house in the middle of nowhere in Dartmoor, England. It's the '70s, and the verisimilitude of the set is taken very seriously, with a vintage '70s casette player a decidely fitting cherry on top.
In Scene 1, we meet the affluent Taylors at their mill house where they'll eventually be joined by another married couple. Hallatt is keeping mum about the plot, so as not to give anything way, but she will say that the audience figures out that there are a whole lot of "triangle things going on" with the two couples. She says she's preparing audiences for advanced ideas and brief nudity. "It's so brief if you blink you'll miss it," says Hallatt. "It's not gratuitous, it's really just very funny." Of the four actors, two have very little stage experience. But they didn't bat an eye when Hallatt asked them to step outside of their comfort zones. "There are a lot of things in this show that test the actors," says Bates. "This is an extremely strong ensemble piece. One character falters, everyone falters. You need a strong core for this ensemble to work."
When the props don't malfunction and the surprises are kept intact and the four characters play off each other just so, the laughs and the thrills come easily. And Bates assures us that the seamless transitions will leave the audiences slack-jawed. "Maybe a small percentage of the audience will have an idea of where it might go, if they're thinking outside of the box," says Bates. "But they won't fully know. It's very different from a clue-based show. In Accomplice you're going through the process with these maybe murderers." Hallatt says it's not because the audience is oblivious or unintelligent, Holmes is just that damn good. "Everything you're seeing is not always what it seems. It's just a ton of fun, with hysterically funny moments," says Hallatt. "I want so bad to say what's going to happen ... but I won't."