“Weird duck, that one,” utters TJ Lathrop (Tim Cousins) in relation to Zenia (Chris Galipo), and that could easily be an endearing way to refer to this production of Any Number Can Die by Tea Tree Players.
In short, the story revolves around distant family members returning to a late uncle’s mansion for a reading of his will at midnight. Suspicion and tension between the potential heiresses, people with hidden identities, hoots, screams, and murders all ensue.
This murder mystery spoof by playwright, Fred Carmichael, emerged in the 1960s and this is the second time it has been staged by Tea Tree Players. It is a deliberately cliche-ridden whodunit with elaborate lighting and sound, hidden doorways throughout the set, and every stereotypical character you could point a fireplace poker at.
So, why bring it back? Director “Lilly” Dolman says the theatre’s revamp has made it possible to have extra entrances, exits, and hidden doorways to fully realise the eccentric setting of this play. And bravo to the team. Knobs and ornaments activated sliding doors, pictures moved to reveal secret viewing portals, and the depth of the stage allowing for passageways and an obscured staircase, lent the production an air (or heir) of plush authenticity.
After a tentative start, the large cast found its form midway through the first act and the full house at the Tea Tree Players Theatre also became more involved as chuckles erupted into occasional guffaws. The appearance of private detective, Hannibal Hix (Rick Mills), was certainly a turning point for the production. Mills’ presence brought great focus to the play and his performance burned brightly like one of the electric candle props, acting as a beacon for his fellow players and the audience. It was intriguing to see how one person’s chemistry added the spark that brought the other actors alive.
Intriguingly, there is some blackface in this production but as the director urges in the program, we must be slow to judge. Such a device does surprise in 2020 but all is explained. Needless to say, some eyes popped a little at first.
There was a joyous start after interval, as Sally Van Viller (Annika Barry) played some Fats Waller on the piano, accompanied by Ernestine Wintergreen (Lesley Main). It was well sung and the audience erupted into applause. Moments like these throughout the play signalled the depth of the Tea Tree Players. If you haven’t come to one of their productions yet, it would seem prudent to keep an eye on their season because you are bound to be pleasantly surprised.
Any Number Can Die is a well-oiled ensemble effort, with players navigating the intricate set’s special effects with aplomb. Mystery and laughter both build throughout the evening and I’m sure every audience member left with some fond moments to remember.