Anthony Horowitz is a clever writer. His creations range from episodes of 1980s TV fantasy series Robin of Sherwood, to new Sherlock Holmes and James Bond novels, and a 28-part WWII TV drama, Foyle’s War. He’s spawned a legion of young fans with his Alex Rider books, about a 14 year-old boy recruited by the British Secret Service. Another popular set of books features the Diamond Brothers Detective Agency. The first, The Falcon’s Malteser, has been turned into a jolly romp of a play by New Old Friends and James Seabright. It’s showing at the Vaults at London’s Waterloo, and we went to see it at the weekend.
The Falcon’s Malteser is the first case for the Diamond Brothers Detective Agency. In the play, we’re introduced to the hapless Tim Diamond, played by Matt Jopling as a wan, bumbling young man. Nick, his little brother, is the real brains behind the operation. A cross-dressing Sian Eleanor Green manages to show us the lucid Nick’s frustration with his older sibling’s stupidity. But he never stops caring. Unlike the brothers’ parents, played with comic panache by Fergus Leathem and Samantha Sutherland. They waltzed off to Australia in search of sunshine, and forgot to take their children.
When we meet Tim and Nick, they’re penniless, and working out of a shabby office. Tim tried out a career in the police force, but failed, as his old boss Inspector Snape (Leathem) keeps popping in to remind him. But then Tim had the uncharacteristic good sense to change their surname from Simple to Diamond, so they could set up a detective agency with some clout. And things might be on the up. A mysterious Mexican client, Johnny Naples, arrives to commission the brothers to help him. Masked by an enormous cerise sombrero, Naples (played by Fergus Leathem again) leads them into a drama involving London crime lords, German hitmen, nightclub singers and a gloriously hammy Dutch actress played by Samantha Sutherland.
Central to the plot is a box of Maltesers, which came from the now-deceased arch criminal, Henry von Falkenberg. As the brothers trace the movements of Johnny Naples, they uncover several murders along the way. Nick begins to unfold the clues, but Tim keeps accidentally leaving fingerprints on the murder weapons. Will Nick and Tim work out why the malty chocolates are so significant? Or will Tim end up behind bars for crimes he didn’t commit?
The Vaults is an excellent venue for this pastiche of a film noire. Set underneath Waterloo station, it’s a cool, rather dark and edgy theatre. So it’s the perfect setting for a shabby PI’s office, and a romp through the seedy underworld of London’s gang scene. Nick and Tim’s journey takes them via nightclubs, a cemetery and into disreputable hotels, all through clever use of a sparse set and comic physical theatre. Feargus Woods Dunlop, Lee Lyford and Heather Westwell successfully manage to compress slapstick, clever wordplay and a lithe, twisting plotline into a relatively small physical space. A highlight was a high-speed car chase, staged with just two office chairs. It included a fabulous sequence where the actors flew into the air in slow-motion every time the car hit a speed bump.
I watched the Falcon’s Malteser with my nine year-old son, and he loved it. He’s yet to read any of the Diamond Brothers Detective Agency series, but he managed to follow the slightly convoluted plot. The play is recommended for children over eight, and I’d say that’s spot-on, as younger children might not follow the story’s twists and turns.
There seemed to be lots of chuckles emanating from the adults in the audience, and the wisecracks peppering the script had my son in stitches. He particularly enjoyed Tim’s mathematical bungling, introduced in the first scene, when Johnny Naples gives the brothers £500, and says he’ll be back with £500 more. Tim triumphantly declares that they’ll have “£2,000 in their pockets”. And Nick’s quips to the audience left my son repeating the catchphrases in delight. His favourite was when Nick discovers a box of matches, and says they’re a clue. Tim plaintively asks when he’ll find a clue, and Nick replies, “you’re clueless”. So simple, yet so entertaining.
The Falcon’s Malteser is 80 minutes long, without an interval, but its speedy pace made it feel shorter. The impressively upbeat energy of the four actors helped drive the tempo. Particularly impressive were Samantha Sutherland’s swift role changes from the Diamond Brothers’ Mum, to home help Betty Cleaner, to crime boss the Fat Man and then back into the female characters of singer Lauren Bacardi, and wealthy widow Beatrice von Falkenburg. Sutherland played all her parts with gusto, as did Fergus Leathem, who almost brought down the house when Inspector Snape rapped a rundown of the suspects involved in the case.
The Falcon’s Malteser would be a good play to see as part of a day out in central London, or on the SouthBank. The Vaults is very close to attractions like the London Eye, London SEALife Aquarium and Underbelly Festival. And if you know any fans of Anthony Horowitz, the Alex Rider books, or Diamond Brothers Detective Agency, The Falcon’s Malteser is a must.
Have you read any Anthony Horowitz books with your children, or any of his adult novels? Which were your favourites?
The Falcon’s Malteser is at The Vaults Theatre from 17 July – 25 Aug 2019, Tuesday to Sunday at 7pm plus Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are £15 – £35
Address: The Vaults Theatre, Launcelot Street, London SE1 7AD
New Old Friends and James Seabright invited us to the press performance of The Falcon’s Malteser for the purpose of this review.
To find out more about things to do in London with kids this summer, check out our guide to what’s on.