Would Bette Davis be seen dead on the Isle of Dogs? Could the East India Dock Road ever be confused with Sunset Boulevard? Only in the curious conjunction of Michael Colby’s comedy thriller musical with the slightly creepy, faintly gothic converted chapel which is ‘The Space’ theatre in London’s Docklands.

The two combine in an oddly atmospheric evening of schlock and parody in which a once-great film star is reduced to making a slasher picture to make ends meet, via a remarkably high body count inside her own mansion. In a mash-up of Sunset Boulevard, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and Psycho, Colby’s piece is a broad-brush portrait of two feuding actresses and the men who come, and die, between them.

As such it’s less well-scripted than, say, ‘Bette and Joan’ although there are some good laugh-out-loud one-liners,and the songs are momentarily catchy if a bit declamatory. Even the score of Sunset Boulevard wouldn’t be best-served by one piano in a church hall acoustic, but a future revival might benefit from more varied orchestrations and a small band.

There’s an extractable number (I mean one which could be sung outside the context of the show) in the second act when Andrea Miller in a strong and attacking performance as the reclusive star Enid Beaucoup sings about ‘My Second Chance’ and introduces real pathos and warmth of feeling into what’s otherwise written as something of a cartoon figure.

The supporting cast inhabit their oddball characters with enthusiasm, Ellen Verenieks is effective as Enid’s TV-star sister in a well measured transition from strident to vulnerable across the evening, Helen Kelly’s powerful voice and Brooklyn accent makes the audience identify with tour guide Rosemarie and genuinely sorry when she becomes another body in a trunk.

For a low-budget production, the effects are surprisingly good, with a busy lighting plot and at least one genuine scream from an audience member at the dispatch of a victim.

The production’s staged in a diamond-shaped round, but played quite definitely toward the entrance doors which makes for the loss of some of the lyrics, particularly when the cast are dancing or killing someone, which is a lot of the time.

The production transfers in early September to the Greenwich Theatre where a more lateral staging is promised.

The Public ReviewsOriginally published on The Public Reviews.