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Review: Locomotive for Murder at Liverpool Theatre Festival ****

It’s fair to say it’s been a testing time for this year’s Liverpool Theatre Festival, with July a distinctly soggy backdrop for the open-air programme.

But British audiences are made of stern stuff.

And although the hard-working quintet from Pinch Punch lost a few sodden souls over the course of this hour-long murder mystery romp on a leaden Wednesday teatime, the stoical who stuck with it were rewarded by successfully guessing the identity of the character ‘whodunit’.

The London-based improv troupe is taking the show to Edinburgh next week – let’s see if Fringe audiences are as canny as a Liverpool crowd.

Cheerfully nodding in the direction of Agatha Christie, Locomotive For Murder sees four characters (five if you count super sleuth Miss Jane Marbles) board a train bound for a faraway destination.

Not everyone will survive the journey, but who will become the unlucky victim and who the evil perpetrator?

While the outline of the plot remains constant, the detail is dictated by the audience, based on stories and suggestions winkled from them by Miss Marbles, while the murderer is decided by the choice of one of three award ceremony-style envelopes, meaning no single show is the same.

Above: Pinch Punch's Locomotive for Murder. Top: Miss Marbles. Photos by David Munn

Thus, at this teatime show, the train became sunny Amalfi bound, carrying prim Lord Percival of Liverpool, breathy seamstress Carla Curtains, a fingerless Ringo (a slyly funny take off complete with moptop wig, although happily for the drummer Pinch Punch didn't reference his full topiary decapitation) and ‘scout leader of the world’, the child-loathing William Woggle, and his penknife of mirrors.

Quite the cheese dream.

With the victim chosen by the volume of cheers, the murder committed, and the body rolled on to the damp apron of the stage (for a bit of in-this-togetherness), it was down to Marbles to interrogate and the audience to decide on the culprit.

The Pinch Punch team are engaging and nimble on their feet, colouring in the outline of the plot in silly and surreal fashion with the characters and information they’ve just been given, and the narrative moves along at a decent clip – although sitting in teaming rain does make 60 minutes seem somehow longer!

Hats off to the actors for persevering through not one but two challenging performances, and to their audience for climbing on board as willing passengers on the ride.


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