Preston actor co-written murder mystery spoof starring Hollywood actors Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ian McKellen

A Preston actor has co-written a fundraising murder mystery spoof starring Hollywood heavyweights Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ian McKellen.

By Laura Longworth
Saturday, 26th February 2022, 4:55 am

Mark Cameron has written the theatre show, Whodunnit [Unrehearsed], with director and long-time pal, Jez Bond. The comedy is being presented in July at Park Theatre in London to help raise money for the venue's community and outreach work, with Lord of the Rings actor Sir Ian McKellen lending his talents as the narrator and Skyfall actress Dame Judi Dench featuring as the voice of the wireless.

The show also stars the likes of Gillian Anderson, Ronan Keating, Joanna Lumley, Jason Manford, Neil Morrissey, Catherine Tate, Bradley Walsh and Ruby Wax, who will each perform on one of the nights as a guest inspector and will be fed their lines live on stage without ever having read the script.

Preston actress Molly Barton has also been cast as a nun, having stepped up from her role as a full-time understudy. The former Penwortham Girls' High School pupil started her career at the London Studio Centre.

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Mark Cameron (left) stars as an alleged Italian textile magnate. Picture by Mark Douet.

Mark, who plays an alleged Italian textile magnate, says the celebrity guests are completely in the dark about the show and are simply told to turn up an hour before the curtains open and be ready to play a murder investigator.

He added: "It's an absolute recipe for disaster. We have people coming to see it three or four times, as every single performance is different. It has sold out, which is absolutely fantastic. It's a fabulous experience - wonderful for everyone's mental health.

"So many celebrities are doing it for free. Some of their agents asked for the script and thought it was a gimmick."

After enjoying sell-out success with a previous Whodunnit show in 2019, Mark and the theatre's artistic director Jez decided to experiment with their craft in order to raise further funds.

Mark, starring in Whodunnit, a murder mystery spoof written with Jez Bond. Photo by Mark Douet.

"Jez had this idea that it would be bizarre if there was a rogue element in a show and said, 'What if you had to be fed lines onstage?'

"I think we were the only people doing this in theatre. When the inspector arrives in a murder mystery, they take over the story. We thought the biggest jeopardy would be if the person who is supposed to have all the power doesn't know what's going on. It would create more comedy."

The show is not only helping to keep the theatre's doors open, as it does not receive any Government subsidies, it also helps to cover the cost of working with less well-known creative talents and running groups for vulnerable people, such as those with dementia or learning difficulties.

Mark said: "It costs £300,000 a year just to keep afloat. We're not out of trouble yet - the show will just cover a few debts.

"The area is culturally diverse. There are lots of voices that don't get to be heard. By putting on shows like this that sell out, we can take those risks next year with new voices. The theatre does so much for the local community. To be able to help is absolutely wonderful. I can't think of a better job."

But the comedy is not only helping the creatives deal with the financial blow of lockdown on the world of performance arts - but the emotional ones, too, with Mark adding: "Three of four of the celebs have said connecting with an audience again and having a room full of laughter has boosted their mental health .

"And now again, with the troubling situation in Ukraine, this is just a small space for escapism."