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by Simon Brett

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-78029-044-7
Publisher: Creme de la Crime

After a 16-year absence, reprobate actor Charles Paris totters back on stage.

Still not quite ready for stardom, Charles Paris is grateful to accept the dual roles of First Gravedigger and Father’s Ghost in Tony Copeland’s road-company production of Hamlet, to be directed by Ned English, whose outré artistic sensibilities demand that the stage set be a replica of the interior of Hamlet’s skull. To fill seats, Copeland has hired television pop stars Jared Root and Katrina Selsey to play the doomed lovers. And that’s when everything goes wrong. Jared is hospitalized when a bit of the set’s parietal bone falls on him; Katrina falls dead when she switches dressing rooms, pokes her eye with a doctored mascara wand and sags backward off a chair. Who’s to blame? The understudies, of course, who now have the starring roles. But Charles, lubricating his synapses with pints at the pub and nips of Bell’s whiskey at home, has other ideas, which include sexual fantasies about the actress playing Gertrude, romantic notions about getting back together with his wife, Frances, and, in the odd moment when he’s not thinking about drinking or shagging, wondering who else in the troupe might have a motive. Katrina’s personal manager lacks a persuasive alibi. The assistant stage manager seems to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Hamlet’s understudy, now replaced by a young man Copeland is grooming for stardom, is seething. So is most of the supporting cast, and the nymphet the director is bonking wants to play Ophelia. The show, however, must go on, though it’s destined never to reach London’s West End.

A cheeky sendup of TV competition shows, tweeting, texting and backstage egos. If the plot recalls that of Brett’s Sicken and So Die (1997), well, that was funny too, even if both their final acts could have used a bit of tweaking.