There is nothing like being in a small group of people loitering after hours in a deserted 18th century fortress when a bone-chilling shriek pierces the fog-shrouded night, followed by the cry of “murder!”.
In Murder a la Carte, written by Sandy Anthony, a charming scoundrel trying to find the missing half of a treasure map leads a salty crew of characters into a murder mystery.
Along with the musical comedy The Sum Of Love–starting next Wednesday– Murder a la Carte, runs every Thursday evening at the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site as part of the Louisbourg After Dark theatre series.
I saw the dress rehearsal and greatly enjoyed the strong performances and many red herrings in the script as well as, of course, being on the site of the reconstructed 18th century French fortress after it has closed down for the day.
It is hard to give the plot for this show without accidentally giving away the solution. There’s a treasure map in two pieces: one piece is in the possession of a former cabin boy (Ciarán MacGillivray) on a pirate ship. He’s stolen it from the present owner (David Hutchinson) of the former pirate vessel who has followed him to Louisbourg. The ex-cabin boy has put his portion of the map in the safekeeping of his mistress, the publicly accessible Nadine (Lindsay Thompson), while he tries to woo the second half away from his fiance (Jenna Currie). She is under the thumb of her drunken and abusive brother (Daniel Dobson) who has his own plans for the map. When lust and greed inevitably lead to murder, it is up to the Sergeant of the Night Watch (Sandy MacLean), assisted by the close questioning of the “foreign looking folk” (the audience), to unmask the killer.
MacGillivray was a good choice for the mercurial former pirate lad: his natural charm added to the creepiness of his character’s sudden bursts of temper and cold manipulation. Dobson created a truly vile character: a disappointed, violent man with little time to charm when bullying is more fun.
Currie, as his sister, was the most sympathetic: a widow at the mercy of a male society but finding the necessary strength of character to fight for what she believes is her due. Thompson’s character was at the opposite end of the social scale: a bar wench/prostitute just looking for a fresh start at respectability. Both performances were canny and intense, and, oddly, equally sympathetic since their motivation just to lead a decent life of their own choosing rang true.
David Hutchinson, as the ship’s captain hot on the trail of buried treasure, was all sneering civility and haughty privilege. And Sandy MacLean’s Sergeant not only authoritatively brought order to the murderous chaos, he also brought much appreciated humour to the questioning of the various suspects.
This is a re-staging of a very early murder mystery script and while it was full of high emotion and economically created the greatest number of suspects, motives, and clues (both false and real) for its small cast of characters, as a mystery fan, I wanted something a little darker and deeper for the solution. I have attended other mysteries in this series and they were all excellently plotted out, but this one, while it definitely is a success (most of the test audience was brilliantly fooled by one piece of misdirection), needed a little more of a surprise at the end.
Eric Letcher, the director (and tour guide), directed each scene for maximum emotion without pitching it over the top into melodrama (and given how the actual murder is commited that was no small feat). None of the locations felt like we were in a museum, as Letcher made each of them feel real and lived in by the various characters.
Because this was a shake-down performance, there were the occasional bumps and mis-timed appearnaces as the cast hurried from location to location but that added to the charm of the performance. Once it opens this week, all of those problems will be gone from the actual performance and audience members will have to remind themselve that they had not actually stepped back into the past.
Murder a la Carte runs Thursday nights, July 5 to August 30, at 7pm, and audience members are advised to rendezvous at Gate 2 at 6:30 pm to led into the Fortress. Tickets are $27 per person. For more information, and to purchase tickets, call 902-733-3548 or visit fortressoflouisbourg.ca.