‘Detective Show’ both funny and perplexing 

click to enlarge The Detective Show
  • Courtesy photo
  • Gareth Brierley, left, and Mark Long charm in “People Show 121: The Detective Show.”
Amid the broad comic action and dialogue that comprise the 75-minute “The Detective Show,” by the venerable British theater troupe People Show, there’s lots of genuinely funny stuff. Some of it is of the absurdist, Monty Python-esque genre. Some is hilariously meta-theatrical, some involves clever physical comedy.

The three performers — Gareth Brierley, Fiona Creese and Mark Long (the latter a company member since its inception in 1966), who devised the piece along with Sadie Cook — are clearly professionals with all the required skills, and that includes improv. When a cellphone rang loudly, the performers turned the moment into a comic bit, then seamlessly returned to the business at hand.

Unfortunately, the funny stuff is largely subsumed within a mind-numbingly complex murder-mystery narrative. The zany send-up of the Agatha Christie brand of British murder mysteries is so confusing, you may find yourself expending most of your energy trying to understand what’s going on rather than laughing.

Brierley jumps in and out of a character named Gareth, an actor. He’s pursuing an attractive tour guide (Creese) who takes people on “Agatha Christie walks” and who apparently has a dark secret. When she turns up dead, Gareth is a suspect.

The events are narrated off and on by Brierley in what he says is his “real person” persona (closely resembling Ricky Gervais). As directed by Jessica Worrell, the performers play various roles — themselves as People Show actors, plus terse, trench-coated detectives; a fawning Italian restaurateur who serves a seagull salad complete with a whole seagull; a forensic lab scientist; a librarian given to hissy fits; and more. (Long is a particularly transformative player.)

Original recorded music by George Khan is part of the mix, Clues include a buzzing fly; a mysterious, decades-old package left at the airport that contains a revolver; a condom filled with the sperm of Hitler and a photo of Hedy Lamar; and a missing Christie library book.

Amusing costume changes, and occasional changes of accent, define the various characters, but there are so many changes, and they happen so rapidly, the mind boggles.

This is People Show’s 121st production, and it’s the company’s first time performing in the Bay Area since 1989, Billed as the U.K.’s longest-running alternative theater, the troupe comes with recommendations from the likes of Sam Shepard.


People Show 121: The Detective Show

Where: Building D, Fort Mason Center, Marina Boulevard and Buchanan Street, S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Sunday

Tickets: $39

Contact: http://peopleshowusa.com/tickets

About The Author

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman is a freelance arts writer specializing in theatre. Some of her short stories and personal essays have been published in newspapers and small literary magazines. She is an occasional book copy editor and also has a background in stage acting. Her book “The Working Actor’s Toolkit” was published... more
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