A Murder Has Been Arranged - Altrincham Garrick

THIS 1930’s play gives a theatrical nod to gentler times and it’s essential you bear that in mind when going to see it.

A thriller/ghost story, it’s fair to say the thrills are considerably more gentle than what’s served up on stage and screen today.

Enlyn Williams’ slow burner is however, a beautifully written and well crafted piece of writing that offers no offence and is yet strangely captivating in places. There are some plays that were made for long, dark winter nights and this is definitely one such piece, set in a rambling old style theatre, brilliantly re-created by designer Margaret Norris.

Sir Charles Napier - played by David Baxendale - stands to receive a 40th birthday present to remember in the shape of a £2m fortune. But his dodgy distant relative Maurice Mullins has other ideas and turns up out of the blue to get his thieving hands on the lucre. We’ve been here a million times of course, but it still great fun trying to guess if Mullins will get away with it. The role is also a great vehicle for Anthony Morris, who passes this “driving test” with flying colours.

Morris, consistently impressive, makes a really good bad guy.

There is much to admire in Mike Shaw’s watchable production, including Chloe Malandra as Sir Charles’ fretful wife Beatrice and Fiona Primrose, confident, accomplished and elegant as Sir Charles’ secretary, Miss Groze.

The costumes, made by Mike and the Garrick’s wardrobe team, provided a visual delight and the perfect compliment to Margaret’s sumptuous set.

Until January 26. The box office is on 0161 928 1677. Star rating - ***

Minding Frankie - The Lowry

YET another absorbing, touching and humorous tale from the home of the natural born storyteller - Ireland.

Based on Maeve Binchy's novel, this is sure to have you rooting for Noel, battling the booze in a bid to prove he's fit to take on fatherhood, and all the responsibilities that go with it.

Aside from the sleepless nights and nappy changing to contend  with, poor Noel also has social worker Moira on his case, as she tries to prove he isn't up to the job. Moira becomes Noel's nemesis and is so for most of the play, cold and judgemental.

Thanks to a fine and very natural performance by Steve Blount as Noel we crave a happy ending, even more so because the character's news he's destined to be a dad comes completely out of the blue and the far from faultless Noel is determined to use this life changing event to turn his own life around.

Clare Barrett effortlessly develops Moira as the play goes on, making her believable throughout a piece that, at just under two hours including an interval, is perfect, feel good fare for a summer night. She's also a study in versatility, playing a number of roles including the tragic mum of baby Frankie, who Noel takes in and raises as his own.

Director Peter Sheridan ensures both actors more than rise to the challenges posed when performing a two hander and Shay Linehan's adaptation is of Binchy's novel is certainly an engaging one.

Watching Minding Frankie was like watching a paperback being performed on stage and while the second act has more substance to it, the whole evening is hugely enjoyable. 

* Until June 23. The box office is on 0843 208 6000. Star rating - ***