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The story behind Murder at the Pelican Club, a smash hit with audiences

More used to penning crime novels of approximately eighty five thousands (85,000) words it was something of a surprise when some years ago I was commissioned to write a murder mystery play to help celebrate Liverpool’s year as the City of Culture. I had never written a play before – unless you count the ones I used to scribe as a child and enlist all the local children in my area to perform in my parents’ garage for which adults were charged a fee to come and watch. So perhaps there has always been the budding playwright within me. 

I admit that I don't enjoy writing short stories so avoid that form of creative writing. I much prefer the marathon of the novel rather than the sprint of the short story but I have always enjoyed writing dialogue so I was eager to give it a go.  The play was written, the performers cast, all was set then the funding was pulled and the play never saw the light of day. Not in Liverpool anyway. I tucked it away as an experience until I received a request from an amateur group in Kent to perform it which they did with great gusto. This was followed by a request this year from the Winterbourne Players, Bristol to stage it and they did so with great success.

Pauline Rowson with the cast and crew of Murder at the Pelican ClubMurder at the Pelican Club is a 1940s Agatha Christie style detective drama with a touch of humour and the Winterbourne Players went the whole hog with it.  The audience were invited to guess ‘who done it’ between the acts which revolved around a wartime themed supper of corned beef hash (vegetable hash for the vegetarians) followed by tinned peaches and evaporated milk. Delicious. There were prizes for the table who came up with the culprit and the motive, and although over the three nights performances, 22-24 November, some got close to guessing nobody actually did.  Which I was rather pleased about. There was also a prize for the best 1940 costume. I dressed up in slacks and turban and wore a genuine 1940 knitted waistcoat which my mother knitted during the war when she served in the ATS.

I had nothing to do with the production of the play leaving all that in the capable hands of the director, Michele English, and her crew.  All I had to do was show up on the last night and take my place as one of the diners in the Pelican Club in November 1940. The cast, I was told, were pretty nervous about me being in the audience but they didn’t show it.

The play opens with singer, Tillie Trotman, about to commence her show.  She and her friend, Maisie Duncan from the munitions works had entered a talent competition and Tillie had won it. Tillie had immediately been snapped up by agent and impresario, Maxine Hunter. Catapulted to fame by radio appearances and concerts, Tillie is now a forces sweetheart. This is her last performance at the popular Pelican Club and Restaurant before travelling overseas to entertain the troops. Someone, though is intent on stopping her.  

There were gasps aplenty from the audience when she was killed at the end of the first act just as she finished her song during a bombing raid, which the Pelican Club was protected from because it is in the basement.  Step forward an aged waiter who in reality is gruff old Inspector Doyle. With six suspects Inspector Doyle has to find the killer, determine the method and the motive.  Was it, MICHAEL EELS the drunken musician accompanying Tillie on the piano; MAXINE HUNTER, Tillie’s agent and manager; BRIAN BLEMMINGS, the owner of The Pelican Club; MAISIE DUNCAN, Tillie’s friend; RYAN CONNOR a waiter or the CHEF, or perhaps someone in the audience…?

Prior to the play’s opening there were songs from 1940 which some in the audience sang along to. They oohed and aahed and laughed in all the right places, which was deeply satisfying. The credit for that goes to the director and the performers for delivering my lines so well and for their impeccable timing, which of course is critical. 

It was thoroughly enjoyable and I was deeply flattered to be asked to present the prizes on the last night and even more flattered when people approached me and asked me to sign their programmes, I felt like a real A-lister. The Winterbourne Players are now keen to stage my next murder mystery play so I had better hurry up and finish writing it. And here’s hoping that Murder in the Pelican Club lives to see many more performances yet.

My  two latest crime novels are A DEADLY WAKE (DI Andy Horton 15) and DEATH IN THE HARBOUR (Inspector Ryga 1950s set mystery 2)  available in paperback, as an ebook on Amazon Kindle, Kobo and as an audio book.

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NOVEMBER 21ST, 2020 @ 7:00:30 UTC

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