Wheaton Drama’s British Whodunit Puts the Accent on Funny

Take a high energy comedic spoof of Agatha Christie-type whodunits, set it in a proper English manor with multiple doors and windows for quick comings-and-goings, a script chuck full of malapropisms and puns, a cast full of talented, but decidedly Midwest actors, and a genuine British director, and you’ve got a recipe for a hilarious production – and production process – for Murdered to Death at Wheaton Drama.

Murdered to Death is directed by Annie Walker-Bright, a British born-and-raised veteran of the Wheaton Drama theater.

Annie Walker-Bright

“I grew up in England the youngest of four siblings with an Irish mother and father with beautiful lilting Irish brogues.  I lived just outside of London for most of my life as a young girl into my early twenties in England.  I am told I still have, some 50 years later of living in the United States, quite a strong accent, although my relatives when I return home would aggressively disagree.  Because of my early years in England, I have an ear for a real English accent whether it be plum-in-the-mouth, cockney, Irish, Scottish or dialect from some nether region of the UK.  As a result, I have heard on stage some ‘English accents’ that have left me quivering in horror because I hear them to be strained and nowhere near authentic and sometimes unintelligible.”

But success, Walker-Bright has learned, is about ensuring the audience is too busy laughing to spend any time worrying about the authenticity of an accent.

“Obviously, most American audiences do not have the same ear as I do, understandably so.  Consequently, when I direct English plays, I tend to focus more on an overall presentation.  My role as the director of this English murder comedy mystery is to infuse and glean as much humor as I can from a funny, well-crafted script.  I am more about the end result, and simply making people laugh – a lot – is my primary directorial vision.  If you present a well-formed stage set in 1930’s style, furniture, furnishings, costumes, makeup and all the other accoutrements of that time period and location, the audience is subconsciously taken to that place without having to listen and master vastly different accents.” 

Cast (L to R), Shannon Bachelder, Mindy Kaplan and Director, Annie Walker-Bright,
focus on the physical comedy of this whodunit set in a classic English manor

Not to say the language of Murdered to Death isn’t important. In fact, it plays a leading role in some of the humor, with double meanings and malapropisms based on the British English. These nuances, Walker-Bright points out, are critical to get right.

“The lead investigator in our mystery is Inspector Pratt, a bumbling, arrogant and clueless detective. Pratt, of course, in the Oxford English Dictionary means, “an incompetent, stupid person,” or, “a person’s buttocks.” Either way, that sums up our Pratt, and he’s just hilarious.

But success for Walker-Bright, is ensuring a little mystery and a lot of laughter are the focus of the evening.

“If the audience comes out of the experience complaining about the lack of English accents, then I have not done my job to suspend reality and put them into an English manor home with an array of colorful characters going about their job to make you laugh.”  

Murdered to Death, by Peter Gordon, will be presented by Wheaton Drama, March 22 – April 14, Thursday-Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 3pm. Wheaton Drama is located at 111 N Hale St. Wheaton, IL 60187. For tickets, call 630-260-1820 or visit www.wheatondrama.org.