Oliver Hutchings

Skype, Zoom, Facebook, WhatsApp, Teams, FaceTime – we’ve all used them a lot recently. But could you solve a murder mystery on one of these platforms? Can this genre be mashed into this unlikely setting? Does any part of this play actually make sense? Probably best not to think too hard about it.

When I sat down to write a radio play one long afternoon at the beginning of lockdown, I wanted to create something that was both relevant and relatable, but to somehow make it comedic, ridiculous and fun at the same time. The challenge was to try and find a way to express the ludicrousness of world we suddenly lived in, whilst completely avoiding reality and its problems. The solution I found was to write a spoof murder mystery, setting the necessarily physical act of murder on a virtual call, and in the process upending stereotypes and updating clichés for the Zoom era. And, as it turns out, that is not only a fun thing to do, but you end up with some pretty wacky results!

There is a long theatrical tradition of updating concepts to fit new circumstances, and indeed theatre and comedy have both always acted as a crucial parody of the times we live in. Certainly Murder on the Skype Call exists because of the context it was written in, the entire premise is built on the needs of the environment. However, at the very centre of this play lies another core principle of comedic theatre, pure unadulterated escapism. Any murder mystery that contains over fifty references to sandwiches is clearly not taking itself too seriously. As exaggerated characters bumble their way through a singularly unlikely plot, there is little doubt that this is first and foremost a comedy.

It is a product of our strange times, and the wackiness that can occur on a conference call

The narrative ducks and weaves around a murder, but, as almost every character seems either incapable or uninterested in actually solving the case, it’s never quite certain the case will be solved at all – it is, in the most literal sense, a comedy of errors. But despite that extremely high brow reference (you’re welcome), when one actor described the play as ‘woke Shakespeare’, it should be taken with extremely liberal pinch of salt. Those who are hoping for a serious mystery should probably look elsewhere; it is neither Agatha Christie nor Arthur Conan Doyle. But anyone who wants to enjoy half an hour of absurdist humour (with a few shocking plot twists thrown in to keep everyone alert) may just have found the right play.

The concept of a play set on Skype is of course a very conscious choice considering the play itself had to be recorded remotely, adding an extra layer of context to the narrative. This reality further drives home the immediacy and relatability of the content, even if the actual premise and plot are arguably a little bit insane. Indeed, the production itself had to overcome the exact same limitations as those facing the characters solving a fictional murder, from dodgy internet to recording woes. Yet the polished and professional end result is a tribute to the creativity and skill of the amazing actors and production team that have managed to create a fully-fledged comedy set on, and produced over, the internet.

The interplay between relevance and abstraction is a prevalent one. The play is clearly not a commentary of our times – even the use of Skype as the platform for the play distances it from the more prolific use of Zoom and HouseParty of the last few months. Despite being clearly modern, it is timeless, it links to reality in no way and context is left open for the listener. Just as on the internet, distance, time and circumstances become irrelevant, allowing for a pure focus on the comedic mystery at hand. There is no explanation or justification for the concept of a murder over Skype, the choice is unashamedly ridiculous, and so is the play.

In a nutshell this is a play that asks the important questions, such as ‘what were you doing in a boat on a frozen lake?’, ‘how do you actually spell sandwich?’, and ‘voulez-vous coucher avec moi?’, but still has time to solve a shocking murder. It is a product of our strange times, and the wackiness that can occur on a conference call, managing to combine Skype, murder, mystery, honeymoons to Vietnam, and, above all, sandwiches. Whether you want absurdist escapism, a vague parody of lockdown life, or are just eager to spot the Monty Python references – this is not a show you want to miss.


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Mountain View

Celebrating Black British Theatre

 Murder on the Skype Call will be broadcast at 7pm on Thursday 18th of June on the ADC's YouTube Channel.

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