Creator and Host: Tim Benzie
In the pantheon of famous detectives who solve mysteries that include names as esteemed as Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Scooby Doo, surely one of the most prolific has to be JB Fletcher. As portrayed by the wonderful Angela Lansbury on the hit TV show The murder she wroteRetired English teacher turned best-selling novelist Jessica Fletcher managed to unravel the truth in 264 almost unbelievable episodes between 1984 and 1996. The series continues through endless rehearsals and has managed to capture a whole new generation of fans in the process.
Undoubtedly inspired by the very popular Sing-a-Long-a presentations which are now a staple in regional theaters across the UK, The murder she wrote “super-fan” Tim Benzie came up with the concept of combining this with a Murder Mystery Night to create something truly unique. Surprise is a strong element of the evening and this criticism will therefore remain sufficiently vague.
Benzie kicks off the night by entering dressed as Jessica Fletcher and hastily trying to recreate the opening sequence of the TV show as the theme’s iconic tune plays. He spends the entire evening dressed as Jessica and has several costume changes: the fact that he’s a tall, imposing man with a full beard only adds to the hilarious and unconvincing disguise. Benzie is a gracious, witty and extremely enthusiastic host. Much of the joy of the evening is being in the presence of someone who clearly loves what they’re talking about, and although they regularly laugh at the TV show as it progresses, it’s always sweet and good-natured: keeping your beards sharper for the audience themselves.
This is a fully interactive evening and it is explained from the outset that knowing The murder she wrote overall isn’t necessary to have a good time, and familiarity with the specific episode isn’t a barrier to fun either. During this performance, the episode was Broadway disease, which takes place in and around rehearsals for a musical in New York City, Jessica becomes confused as she visits her nephew who acts as an accountant for the company. The actual 47-minute episode unfolds gradually on a large projection screen over the course of the evening as Benzie constantly interrupts to make jokes, report blunders, and most importantly, involve the audience in solving the mystery alongside Jessica. . This takes the form of identifying suspects as they appear and establishing how famous the actors portraying the characters are compared to each other, leading to a nice tangent where Benzie shows footage of each playing at their peak. The episode continues as the audience is encouraged to report when something suspicious happens or is said, which Benzie records on a visible graphic and which will ultimately lead to the audience’s choice on the identity of the killer. Will the audience be as specific as Jessica always is?
There’s so much more to the night than this roundup that hardly does justice to the hard work Benzie puts into her performance, as well as the obviously massive amount of preparation and research that goes into it. Benzie assures us that every time he visits a location the episode will be different, showing both the respect he has for his audience and the amount of work he’s willing to put into his. passion project.
There are a few little baffles that it wouldn’t be fair not to point out. Solve-the-Long-A-Murder-She-Wrote was clearly created for relatively small venues, and even in a mid-sized theater like Darlington Racecourse, it feels slightly out of place. It undoubtedly benefits from being presented in a more intimate space, although the social distancing that currently needs to be implemented in theaters certainly isn’t helping either. Benzie crams a lot in the evening and it sometimes feels like he’s trying too hard. Some aspects such as the raffle and the quiz, while wonderful, seem unnecessary in a theater setting and although Benzie’s slightly ramshackle approach to running the show completely on his own (lighting and sound technicians and a member of the FOH staff aside) is lovely and fun, he feels that an additional person to handle the video elements of the show would be extremely beneficial. however, Solve-along-a-murder-she-wrote is still in its infancy (having debuted in 2019) and hopefully the success it deserves can lead to expanding and modifying it for rooms of different sizes in the future. With over 260 episodes to work on, Benzie certainly has a lot of potential material.
For a fun and campy evening, there is little that could beat Solve-A-Murder-She-Wrote’s unique qualities and the spirit and charm of Benzie. Personally, this review can’t wait to see Cabot Cove again.
Never mind ‘whodunit’ – rather ‘yougottadoit’!
Tour through the UK
Details of dates and places to come HERE