Review: The Detective’s Handbook (Sydney University Dramatic Society)

rsz_10344095_783993371619707_864135050788121539_oVenue: University of Sydney Studio B (Camperdown NSW), Apr 30 – May 10, 2014
Book and Lyrics: Ian Ferrington
Score: Olga Solar
Director: Ian Ferrington
Actors: Alessandro Tuniz, Matt Bartlett, Alexander Richmond, Natasha Vickery, Victoria Zerbst, Elliott Miller, Alice Birbara

Theatre review
The Detective’s Handbook is a new musical written by Ian Ferrington, with score provided by Olga Solar. It is a satirical take on film noir, bringing to mind, films like Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). It is persistently self-conscious, but it takes its parody seriously, placing as much focus on storytelling and its musical numbers, as it does on creating laughs.

Ferrington’s vision is ambitious and idiosyncratic. His work might not look original, but it bears a quirkiness that prevents it from feeling derivative. His writing is witty and charming, but his characters, although spirited, are too traditional. Ferrington’s direction is energetic, with an emphasis on rhythms, which keeps things buoyant and lively. There is however, a need for punchlines and plot twists to be cleaned up for clearer delivery. Olga Solar’s delightful music is beautifully woven into the narratives, and effectively provides characters with interest and complexion. There is a noticeable lack of melodies in most of the songs, with the team’s decision to adopt a “rap-infused 1950s showtune jazz” style. It is debatable whether that choice is a wise one, but the two most memorable numbers, “Too Much To Ask” and “Congratulations”, are both conventionally structured, hummable tunes.

Matt Bartlett has the strongest singing voice in the cast, and plays Detective Jimmy Hartman with great conviction, creating a character that stands out as the most believable of the group. The actor brings a warmth to his performance, and quickly establishes a good connection with the audience. Natasha Vickery plays her three characters with panache and levity. She embraces the show’s giddy style of comedy with good humour, and although required to play silly often, we remember her performance to be a polished one. Other players tend to have an oversimplified approach, with characterisations that do not develop far enough to sustain a show that’s considerably more substantial than a skit.

This is a musical with a lot of frivolity, but it also demonstrates impressive flair. Ferrington and Solar’s material contains great potential, with generous room for comedians to provide dynamic and creative interpretations. This production might be a little under-cooked with too many one trick ponies, but there is no doubt that if explored with greater depth, its future incarnation could well be The Big Noir Musical Hit.

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