In its show blurb, Midsumma offering Like Murder off a Duck’s Back presents itself as “An afternoon of absurd murder mystery”, and then, oddly (yet appropriately), downplays the mystery component. Absurdity is certainly present in this tale of tangled relationships between film-noir tropes of “a barman, a spinster, a neurotic and a sleazebag”.
The bar is The Duck’s Back, and the Barman (Lachlan Casey-Roleff) has a secret, shady past. A “black widow”-type Ms Flowers (Sophie Singleton), with heavy Brooklyn accent did well financially out of a past marriage, but now has other needs. Her naïve heiress daughter Magnolia Flowers (Dylan) is also keen to wed, helping her overlook the clearly dubious nature of a conman barfly, Salesman (Josiah Moa).
Waiting beforehand, the audience heard the wailing saxophone of “crime jazz”, suitably setting the scene for the first act. Whilst the beginning was recognisable as film-noir, the show steadily morphed into a less-sophisticated slapstick comedy.
The intended humour could feel somewhat formulaic at times, and the slapstick didn’t have the surprising comedic punch of the earlier action. The show has some good ideas that were stretched a little too far. The script would benefit from a critical evaluation so as to recognise which of its strengths could be showcased better.
The smallish room with no stage was packed with flat seating. This was a little uncomfortable for punters. It would have also caused a decent slab of the audience to miss action occurring on the floor.
At other times the company did a better job of handling the setting by turning difficulties into assets. Given little “off stage” space, the players used scene changes in a tight area to air some of their characters’ frustrations.
The performances also make this a worthwhile outing. Moa exuded the appropriate level of scheming sleaze, and Dylan exhibited a suitable girlishness.
Casey-Roleff nailed the world-weary, deadpan delivery we would expect of a Noir detective. Singleton did especially well as the libidinous widow with the accent that would have normally kept her out of high society.
The escalating brutality of Like Murder off a Duck’s Back certainly met with audience laughter and approval.
Like a Murders off a Duck’s Back
Celia Little Room – Mission to Seafarers, 717 Flinders Street, Docklands (Melbourne)
Performance: Saturday 24 April 2021 – 6.00pm
Season: 20 – 24 April 2021 (closed)
Image: Lachlan Casey-Roleff (supplied)
Review: Jason Whyte