The Play Produced
SECONDARY _ . CAUSE OF DEATH By Peter Gordon First-time director Andy Masters discusses this production by The Community Players of New Eltham. PLOT AND CASTING econdary Cause of Death, a comedy thriller is the sequel to Murdered To Death by the same author. The action for this play takes place in 1939 in the library of Bagshot House owned by Colonel Craddock who inherited it after the 'last debacle' in Murdered To Death . The Colonel has converted the house into an exclusive hotel. However, the guests and staff are not all that they appear to be. Count Puchlik, a Polish gentleman - a.k.a. Heinrich Kuchler, a German spy - is trying to discover the British 'vartime secrets' from the Colonel with help from Captain Henrietta Woolmer-Cardington a British double agent. All this is happening under the watchful eye of Lily Tuthill the cook, who is also a British Intelligence Officer. Nurse Parsley is employed to take care of the Colonel. Martha Armstrong is the Colonelis housekeeper and Lady Isadora Pollack, a guest at the hotel has recently been released from the lunatic asylum where she was incarcerated for killing the Colonelis
commanding officer and is now bent on killing the Colonel in
revenge for sending her husband 'over the top' during World War I. Colonel Craddock has commissioned Cynthia Maple,
who is determined to take the Colonelis money and at the
same time commit 'the perfect crime', to stage a murder mystery event entitled The Case of the Identical Twins. Cynthia in turn has recruited Cardew Longfellow, a thespian to help her in this task. Cardew happens to be the Colonelis lookalike - but has also been recruited by Lily Tuthill to serve his country by feeding misinformation to Heinrich Kuchler. Into all this confusion enters the incompetent, bumbling Inspector Pratt who arrives to inform Colonel Craddock that his wife has recently escaped from the lunatic asylum (the same one of which Lady Isadora was an inmate) and that he is to be the Colonelis armed protector - to the Colonelis alarm. Soon 'under the very nose of a police Inspector' the bodies pile up as guns, scissors, pen knives, candlesticks and exploding cigars are used with murderous intent and Inspector Pratt, baffled, explains murders away as Secondary Causes of Death . As I am fairly new to the Community Players and this was the first time I had directed a play, I approached some of the more established members of the Players in making a
decision about what play to do. Having initially chosen Murdered To Death and then been told that this play had already been produced by The Players, I was greatly relieved to discover this sequel
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Secondary Cause of Death. Furthermore, Bill Cooper, who played Inspector Pratt in Murdered to Death had retired from The Players. Nevertheless, I was pointed in his direction by the other members and I was delighted that Bill was willing to come out of retirement for this typecast role! Another factor in choosing this play was the fact that the cast size was not too great and only had three male parts - a bonus when there are few men in The Community Players! As you might gather from the synopsis, where few characters are who they appear to be, one of the difficulties for many of the cast was the portrayal of two characters - especial~ where different accents were needed or where one of the characters has a weak personality and the other a strong personality - e.g. Lily Tuthill. These were a significant consideration when auditioning and some work had to be done on the strength of characters during rehearsals . Beggars can 't be choosers.
REHEARSALS Rehearsals were constrained by the inevitable demands by
other interested groups who also meet at the church hall premises and use the stage. Rehearsals began in March witr one rehearsal per week for the first three months and then twe rehearsals per week for the remaining period . Rehearsals were dogged from the start. For the first two months I was unable to get to rehearsals on time due to the disrupted bedtime routine of my elder so on the birth of my second son! Sum" ,,'lr holidays, 'extra'
holidays by those retired
members of The Players and
sickness_meant that in six
months we only had seven or
eight rehearsals with the complete cast! Enough to turn some of my hairs grey and cause a sleepless night or two. However, rehearsals were fun and there were always plenty 0 ' people to 'read in ' as three ne\'. members jOined the group in that six-month period. Being new to the directing game, I was encouraged by a comment made by one of the cast that most, if not ali, the cast had enjoyed the rehearsals and likec the play and that this had contributed to the near sell -out success of the production.
door a few lines later as Colonel Craddock - or was it to die as the Colonel and re-enter as Longfellow? The other point of debate when set building was the colour of the walls. The script implied a dark oak wood panelling effect all around the set which would conceal a 'secret' door - secret from no one except Inspector Pratt! However, it was felt that this
would make the set look too dark. Hence, a lighter plaster effect was used between painted oak beams and the secret door was constructed using a sliding bookcase.
LIGHTING The lighting was again straightforward interior lighting with a realistic coal fire effect stage left. Although several lights fading in / blackout cues are included in the script I decided extra curtains would be more appropriate whenever characters died rather than risk the audience seeing corpses resurrected in the gloom and calmly walk off stage!
COSTUMES I am grateful to our costume coordinator for taking charge of the 19301s style costumes. Most were easy to obtain and, I suspect, used in Murdered To Death. Much to the amusement of the managers, I trawled all the local charity shops asking for a deerstalker hat and a nursers cape! The nursers cape I found, but I was unsuccessful in finding a suitable deerstalker - even in hire shops - and an alternative was used. The only costume hired from a local shop was the ATS uniform for Captain Henrietta.
right in the dining room after the explosion sound effects and plumbers smoke matches in blu-tac were used for the smoking shoes. For the scissors in the back I am grateful to the father of one of our new members who designed a pair of scissor handles in a wooden block which strapped easily, safely and effectively to the housekeeperis neck.
FINAL COMMENTS Peter Gordon has written, I suspect, Secondary Cause of Death with the amateur drama group in mind . It is well written with an amusing script, subtle innuendoes and funny oneÂ liners (especially from Inspector Pratt). With a simple set, a reasonably sized cast and straight forward lighting and special effects, I would recommend Secondary Cause of Death to any first time director out there struggling to find a suitable play. I have found it enjoyable and challenging enough and it has not put me off directing forever. Thank you Peter Gordon .
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MUSIC No music was used during the performance although 1930rs songs were played before the show and during the interval.
SPECIAL EFFECTS AND PROPS Special effects and properties were kept simple. A smoke machine was used offstage
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