A war veteran, a psycho and a virgin walk into a bar. Not the opening to what could be a very distasteful joke but the first scenario in Murder, the new one off drama by Brigar Larsen, director of Danish detective masterpiece The Killing.
Colleen (Karla Crome) and Erin (Lara Rossi) are sisters from a council estate in Nottingham. They’re a bit rough round the edges, always drinking, rowing and fighting with each other, so much so that their poor old mum left them as teenagers to fend for themselves.
Then one evening at the local boozer, they meet bad-boy war hero Stefan who sets about wooing the girls over a game of a pool. A few drinks, some pizza and a game of spin the bottle later and we are left with the mystery of who killed Erin in the bathroom with the Amaretto bottle. Was it Stefan or was it Colleen?
Examining the events that led up to the incident, Murder is presented as a series of direct to camera monologues by the characters involved.
These monologues make sense at the beginning of the piece as Colleen and Stefan appear to be talking to police officers as they are questioned about the murder. However, as the investigation continues and more characters are added to the mix, the conceit starts to grate. We hear the thoughts of D.I Sheehy (Robert Pugh) and then Colleen’s boyfriend ‘H, a Pathologist and finally the missing Mum (Claire Rushbrook), so instead of a drama Murder becomes an hour of almost pure exposition.
The cast do an admirable job, with Stefan Dillane’s theatrics as the QC actually very watchable but without being able to interact with each other the actors have no one to spark off. All the crying, shouting and table punching in the world is unable to mask what is essentially rather flat and unimaginative writing. Character details, such as Stefan’s missing leg and D.I Sheehy’s snack addiction are shovelled in as and when needed without any subtlety or elegance.
Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads succeeds because after sitting for an hour with one of his superbly crafted characters, you feel like you know them and are sucked into their world view. Murder with too many characters achieves the complete opposite.
Forced out of the drama, I found I couldn’t forgive little things such as why would Legal Aid sanction the use of Queens Council to represent Colleen and how a character like Stefan, a young man full of fight and indignation, would be happy to be sent to prison for a crime he did not commit?
Right at the end we see how the crime really happened and suddenly everything comes to life and we see a glimpse of the drama that ‘Murder’ could have been. Yet, instead of a realistic portrayal of a seedy and scuzzy crime what we have is a slightly pretentious production that feels like a special late night episode of Hollyoaks.