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Murder on the National Express

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Harry Househam

Murder mysteries have never been more popular thanks to the rise of true crime as a genre; from serial killer podcasts to investigation-obsessed Netflix series. Whether it be My Favourite Murder or Mindhunter the crime, thriller and murder mystery genre is increasingly consumed by the masses. In fact, it was recently revealed that the most watched film on Netflix was the unlikely Murder Mystery starring Jennifer Anniston and Adam Sandler – a murder mystery set aboard a private yacht.

Oxford is the dramatic backdrop to many murder mystery stories, popularised on television by Inspector Morse and Lewis, this morbid tradition in literature is one that goes back almost one hundred years to An Oxford Tragedy in 1933 by J.C. Masterman. There are hundreds of murder mysteries set in Oxford including author Edmund Crispin who features his recurrent sleuth, Gervase Fen, an Oxford professor of English Language and Literature in Oxford. Other such Oxford-based murder mysteries are Oxford Blood (1985) by Antonia Fraser, Death on the Cherwell (1935) by Mavis Doriel Hay as well as more recent additions such as Murder at the Ashmolean (2019) by Jim Aldridge. All mysteries well worth a read to the Oxford-based murder obsessive!

It seemed only right then that Oxford, a city with a rich literary past, would make the perfect setting for a modern live murder mystery show, Murder on the National Express. This newest show is produced by local comedy club Jericho Comedy. The show is a murder mystery on a moving bus, where a murder has taken place on a replacement bus service - a parody of modern transport woes. Over the past three years Jericho Comedy have been experimenting in site-specific shows across Oxford, i.e. shows in non-traditional performance spaces, from court cases in courthouses to funerals in real churches, stand-up about literature and Harry Potter shows in bookshops. We’ve organised shows in some interesting spaces; from cathedrals to museums, distilleries, medieval barns and more.

Across venues though no performance space could be as site-specific as one capable of moving from place to place. A coach is one of the few venues you can drive around to any location. For me a coach was the dream venue; with tightly packed seats, an on board PA and adjustable lights it seemed like the perfect setting for a high speed mystery. Coaches alongside other forms of transport are heavily recurring locations for mystery stories from ‘Murder takes the bus’ in Murder, She Wrote to ‘Murder on the Honore Express’ in a recent series of Death in Paradise. One reason Film Noir focuses on travel is due to the fact the post-war era was obsessed with the autonomy of the car. Smokey cities are a big visual focus of noirs as much as steam-filled railways stations as this was the great transition from public transport to the modern individualism represented by the car. Murder mysteries as a genre are obsessed with transportation, just look at the trains in Perfect Strangers and Murder on the Orient Express what better setting could there be for a mystery?

Trains planes and buses are an enclosed space with a sense of claustrophobia, uncomfortable proximity to strangers, and several good justifications for why people can't leave. There seemed nothing more amusing than the idea of a murder being foiled not by a sleuthing detective, but by the limitations of modern transport, a murder having to take place on a replacement bus is inherently ridiculous, self deprecating and very English. With all the benefits of the closed quarters and limited pool of suspects as a train with the heightened ridiculousness of a replacement bus.

We have already performed the show twice to packed out crowds with a great response, and a lovely review from Stage Talk Magazine, and we’re delighted to bring the show back to Oxford. Plans are underway to create a series of Murder on the National Express shows from trains to cruises and planes, all murder mysteries set aboard a replacement bus. All with the added intrigue of actually being on board a real moving coach.

Jericho Comedy brings murder mystery to the home of Inspector Morse with additional shows performed in Bicester on 21st February and Aylesbury on 20th March. Tickets can be bought at www.jerichocomedy.com

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