Murdoch Mystery de-Mystified [by Sharu Delilkan]
Having previously been to The Loft’s inaugural show Venus Is, when the studio space was transformed into a raunchy bordello, it was a total contrast to be greeted by a sea of television screens on stage.
However the traditional tiered seating and set with newsroom desk and chairs, along with television camera and bookcase, as well as the aforementioned television screens, definitely help set the scene from the get-go.
As mentioned in a previous blog, I don’t purport to be a rugby expert. And although I will openly confess that the Rugby World Cup fever has been all consuming, I have to admit that I am only recently acquainted with the iconic event surrounding the disappearance of the infamous Keith Murdoch.
For those like me who aren’t familiar with the Murdoch story, his fame came out of All Black career ending controversially and mysteriously. He scored the All Blacks’ only try in their 1972 win against Wales in Cardiff. However later the same night he was allegedly involved in a fracas which resulted in him being sent home from the tour by All Black management. Rather than returning to rugby in New Zealand, Murdoch virtually went into hiding, quitting his home and his sport and moving to the Australian outback where he has lived ever since.
Not being a rugby buff it’s the journalist in me that was drawn to the premise of Finding Murdoch. Playwright Margot McRae’s journey as a journo to find the legendary self-exiled Murdoch was what intrigued me.
And in keeping with this subject matter I found the second half of the play more interesting, particularly when we are privy to McRae’s historic pub interaction with Murdoch. Truth be told, I felt the first part of the play was a little drawn out and could have been a lot shorter and snappier. Again this could well be due to my personal interest in the actual interview with Murdoch.
Although the television screens were a great devise to depict a television production house, I can’t help but wonder whether a large television screen with a tight close-up of each of the interview subjects could have been more effective – a bit like that of Frost/Nixon which managed to capture the beads of sweat trickling down his brow, making excellent TV as well as accentuating his guilt.
Director Paul Gittins’ fabulous casting should definitely be commended.
Talking to mates after the show that remembered the incident and Murdoch, it was apparent that Michael Lawrence was perfectly cast as the lead both physically and in his demeanour. His low-key performance was even more powerful, given his large and towering stature.
Geoffrey Snell’s depiction of captain Ian Kirkpatrick, who has obviously never come to terms with his guilt and failure to support Murdoch, is convincingly executed and worth special mention as is Kevin Wilson’s poignant portrayal of the All Black’s manager who struggles to regain his players’ respect. Unfortunately these well developed characters make some of the newsroom’s fraternity appear somewhat cliche and two-dimensional, in comparison.
Interestingly Sarah Somerville (Jane) who takes a while to look comfortable in her role during the first part of the play, really comes into her own when she interviews Murdoch alone in the Queensland pub. Her quandary between human decency and professionalism definitely endears her to the audience.
And of course none of this would have been possible without McRae’s skilful ability to write such convincing dialogue, which rolls off the actors’ tongues. This coupled with her astute powers of observation and uncanny ability to replicate the rhythms of everyday speech adds to the realism of the piece. Memorable lines include “we’ve put men in touch with their feelings since then” and “you never beat the Welsh you just score more points than them”.
Overall a great piece of Kiwi history captured on stage, which will appeal to both theatregoers and rugby fanatics. You owe it to yourself to take a breather from the RWC, not just for a good evening out but also to show your respect and commemorate the most mysterious and memorable All Black to date.
Finding Murdoch is presented by Landmark Productions and plays at Q until 23 October. More information at Q.