Writing A Play

Murder at the Pelican Club - A Brand New Murder Mystery Play (artwork by Eirinda)

In August I was commissioned to write a murder mystery play. More used to penning crime novels this is my first serious play and I thoroughly enjoyed writing it. By providing some background information here, I thought I might help those of you who are writing plays or who would like to write plays.

It began with an e mail in August asking writers for submissions for a new murder mystery play to be performed by professional actors and actresses in the autumn. Deadlines were extremely tight. I needed to know more.

What kind of play were they looking for? Was it to be a serious play or a comedy? What kind of audience were they aiming at? Where was it to be performed? And last but by no means least, was I going to get paid for writing it?

After several e mails between the producer and myself I knew I wanted this commission. It was a great opportunity to try my hand at professional play writing, and to pen something in the period I longed to write about - the 1940s.

I had many ideas but one stood out amongst the others and it was this one I worked up into an outline, which I duly submitted. The producers loved it and soon I was writing the script.

Your first script is not your final one.

There were many revisions and a writer needs to be open to suggestions by the producers. I had to cut down the number of characters from eight to seven and change dialogue many times. But each time the producers had their reasons. In novel writing you need to think like your characters and in play writing the same applies, but with the play you go one step further- you also need to think like an actor - what would work on stage or screen and what wouldn't?

The cast had their first read through on 13 October and it was a success. Now the rehearsals begin, and I am sure there will be further re-writes before 26 November 2008 when it will be premiered in the critically acclaimed Haymarket Restaurant in Liverpool where a stunningly professional cast of actors and actresses will bring my play to life. I find it incredibly exciting and obviously a little nerve wracking.

Play versus novel

I found many advantages in writing a play over a novel (although I love doing both). Firstly I loved the tight deadlines. In my marketing career I was used to working to very tight deadlines, responding to the client’s demands and to the media. I also found it really invigorating to be working with such creative people. I enjoyed the discussions about the characters and the dialogue. It is a totally different experience to writing a novel where you are alone with your characters, dialogue and plot usually until your agent or editor reads it. With a novel, feedback only comes when the novel is finished, but with the play I was able to try out ideas with the producers and vice versa. My marine mystery crime novels are written in the third person single view point – all the action is seen through my detective DI Horton’s eyes – my thrillers are written in the first person, so no activity can take place off the page, and I think that my style of writing lends itself naturally to a play and particularly one of this sort where there are no scene changes and all the action has to be played out in front of an audience.

About Murder at the Pelican Club

Murder at the Pelican Club is set in a restaurant in 1940s England. I’ve written it in the style of Agatha Christie’s Poirot but have chosen to feature a gruff, middle-aged detective called Doyle instead of the fastidious Belgian detective famously portrayed on television by David Suchet.

The fact that Murder at the Pelican Club is being performed in a non traditional venue was an added attraction to me for writing the play, that and the fact the producers wanted a serious play in the style of the great Agatha Christie. There is no curtain to rise or fall, so I had to think of ways to get the characters (and the dead body) off the ‘stage’. I also like the idea of taking the theatre to the audience rather than the audience going to a theatre.

Check out the web site…

There is a web site about Murder at the Pelican Club http://www.myspace.com/murdermysteryuk
which chronicles how the idea took shape and how Hall Lake Productions auditioned and cast the actors and actresses, plus more. It could provide helpful information to anyone reading this who wants to be or is a playwright or any actors, actresses, producers.

Here is a preview of Murder at the Pelican Club:

“Imagine being inside an episode of a classic TV Murder Mystery... The Haymarket Restaurant and Hal Lake Productions invite you to experience "Murder at The Pelican Club", a brand new and exciting detective play in the vein of the classic crime thrillers of the 20th century! With audience all around, this fully professional production lets its audience experience the feeling of being in the middle of the action in a show that can be compared to a "Poirot"-style detective drama, complete with twists and turns, a two-course gourmet dinner and an edge-of-your-seat, shocking reveal of the killer. You get the chance to try your hand at solving the mystery, discuss amongst yourselves and make your own guess as to who did it, why and how! Maybe you'll even be the evening's winner and walk away with the prize! The moment you enter the underground vaults of the critically acclaimed Haymarket Restaurant, time turns back to 1940. The new forces sweetheart is performing on the eve of a big European tour for allied troops. Suddenly an air-raid hits the city, and as the bombs get closer, the lights flicker and go out. They come back on to reveal the starlet lying murdered on the floor! The killer must have committed the murder during last few minutes right in front of all the diners. But who could possibly have killed her in a room full of witnesses, and why? The detective steps in to uncover a web of lies, deceit and dark secrets while solving the mystery where everyone is a suspect of this audacious murder...”

Bookings are now open…

The première is on Wednesday 26 November 2008 and the event will run weekly. The full Murder Mystery Dining experience at The Haymarket Restaurant including the murder mystery play and a two-course gourmet dinner with a glass of wine costs £35 per person. You can book by calling 0151 255 0588

The play is also available for private and corporate bookings, so if you fancy your own murder mystery experience call 07963 111730.

I loved writing Murder at the Pelican Club and I am keen to write more plays. The producers have been fantastic and it’s been really great to work with such talented and enthusiastic people, to discuss the play as it unravels and to revise and fine tune it and to have to continually think from the actor’s point of view. I can’t wait to see it performed. It will be a great thrill to see my written word come to life.

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