A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (ACM) – theatre review

What a delight! Time just zipped by in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. This cleverly conceived and executed comedy is making its Australian debut.

With book and lyrics by Robert L. Freedman and music and lyrics by Steven Lutvak, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder opened on Broadway in November 2013, going on to win four Tony Awards the following year. They included Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical and Best Direction.

The setting is a penitentiary in 1909. Lord Montague “Monty” D’Ysquith Navarro, Ninth Earl of Highhurst (Chris Ryan), is writing his memoirs on the eve of his (possible) execution. He maintains it’s the truth and nothing but the truth about what happened to him – a story that could be called “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”.

Cut to 1907 when Monty arrives home to a shabby flat, having just buried his mother. She had washed clothes to eke out a living. A mysterious woman, Miss Marietta Shingle (Nancye Hayes), arrives, She maintains she was his mother’s good friend. She reveals to a gobsmacked Monty that his mum was in fact a member of the aristocratic D’Ysquith family, but that she was cut off when she eloped with a Spanish musician (who has also passed away).

Miss Shingle says while Monty’s mother wanted to spare her son any shame, he is – in fact – ninth in line to become the Earl of Highhurst. Not surprisingly, Monty writes to the family and is rebuffed. But he persists … and soon enough he comes face to face with a number of the D’Ysquiths.

As the title suggests, Monty hatches a plan to knock off the eight D’Ysquiths ahead of him in the pecking order. And before you know it, he’s doing just that, in hilarious fashion. At the same time, he has his eye on two ladies. One – Sibella Hallward (Alinta Chidzey) – ditched him earlier to marry a man of higher social standing, but she and Monty are still on more than speaking terms. The other, Phoebe D’Ysquith (Genevieve Kingsford), is the wife of a distant cousin.

Hijinks and mayhem abound in this uproarious piece, with no shortage of laugh-out-loud material. Some of the musical numbers and verbal interchanges are delightful.

Mitchell Butel is magnificent; playing no less than eight roles as various D’Ysquiths – both men and women – about to meet their maker. What a treat! He has a wow of a time. With a glint in his eye, Chris Ryan has a grand time of it too, as his character literally gets away with murder in the most ridiculous circumstances.

Using video technology, the staging captures a Victorian* theatre atmosphere (the set designer is Christina Smith). Dana Jolly’s choreography and Isaac Lummis’ costumes are both wonderful. To give you some idea, Mitchell Butel has more than 16 costume, wig and makeup changes (a number in under 30 seconds), plus a dedicated backstage team to help him with his lightning transformations.

That’s not to overlook Kellie Dickerson’s musical direction, and the incomparable direction of The Production Company’s founding director Roger Hodgman.

The 11-strong cast do a wonderful job bringing the tall tale to life. I loved every moment of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, which is on at The Playhouse at Arts Centre Melbourne until 18 November 2018.

*The historical era, not the state

Alex First

Other reviews you might enjoy: