Diners are detectives in macabre corner of Sussex

IF YOU’VE ever watched an episode of ITV’s Midsomer Murders and thought you could have wrapped the whole case up in half the time it takes DCI Tom Barnaby – now’s your chance.

Thursday, 18th November 2010, 10:20 am

For something akin to the rather gruesome Midsomer magic has found its way to a macabre corner of Sussex – and diners are the detectives.

In the TV series, one death follows swiftly on from another in the eclectic set of period cottage villages.

There is an equal sense of relentless wickedness in the old dungeons under Arundel’s town hall – which double as the setting for the Morlington community.

Collin Baxter and Jeremy Jacobs who run the Arundel Jailhouse venue have used their creative and theatrical genius to carve out a whole host of themed events there.

One of the most popular is a monthly murder mystery evening.

Normally a review of such a dramatic event would have been confined to our entertainments pages.

But this is not simply a piece of theatre.

The evening revolves around a three-course meal.

Anyone who knows the jailhouse will appreciate that while it is an extraordinarily atmospheric venue, it has its limitations too.

It can’t accommodate hundreds of visitors and before I went I puzzled as to how it would manage to serve up any kind of meal.

It is renowned for its cells not its kitchens.

As a result, Friday’s dinner tasted all the better.

It began with skewered prawns, and was followed by an excellent buffet.

Dishes ranged from plates of ham and cold beef, to a whole salmon, quiche, as well as an inventive selection of sides.

A lemon tarte completed proceedings.

To me, the greater mystery was not who murdered Paul Tergyste or Gloria Wick’s husband, Harry – but how such a feast could have been created in such limited surroundings.

While the 27 other diners fired questions at the cast of three – who performed around us in the dungeon – I was more keen to establish from Collin the culinary secret.

It transpired that the food is rushed down, course by course, from the nearby The St Mary’s Gate Inn, courtesy of Terry Bedford.

As Friday night buffets go – it was surprisingly good.

More than that, the overall evening was just tremendous fun.

We knew no-one else on our table of eight before we arrived – but within minutes we felt the three performing arts students from Chichester Uni and the three friends out for a girls’ night with a difference were lifelong friends.

After all, they say it’s adversity that brings people together – and there is nothing more unsettling than having an American TV show host shot to death in front of you while you are in the process of dissecting a prawn.

The murder mystery itself was well constructed – in the best traditions of Agatha Christie, every clue was scrupulously presented amongst all the red herrings. Not that that variety of fish featured in the buffet.

The group of performers is called 368 Theatre Company and they’ve been devising murder mysteries for more than 15 years. Nigel Fairs, the inspector, is the creator and writer and has over 300 different mysteries in his creative bank account.

He was joined at last week’s event by Aby Harris and Max Day who proved with him to be a trio of multi-faceted performers. They staged a stunning performance which cleverly combined some serious and convincing acting with a light, soufflé style approach.

Very appropriate.

Murder mystery evenings are not everyone’s cup of tea – and this wasn’t the place for a couple to go for a quiet, romantic candlelit meal for two. But if you’re bored with the endless stream of TV mysteries and want to get a little closer to the action or are just looking for an extremely entertaining evening then this is perfect.

What better venue to bring friends, too, for that special birthday or celebration?

Every murder mystery evening, we were told, is different, but each follows the lives – and deaths - of the peoples of Morlington.

The next one is scheduled for Thursday December 9.

Tickets are £25 per head, to include a three course meal, the mystery performance itself – and there was even a bottle of bubbly for the winning table.

Sadly that was not us. We came third – but considering there were only three tables no-one could claim that ours was the greatest achievement.

The Restaurant Inspector will stick to investigating the mysteries of the pantry - and leave the real detective work to John Nettles down in Midsomer.

The Arundel Jailhouse, The Undercroft, Arundel Town Hall, Maltravers Street, Arundel www.arundeljailhouse.co.uk 01903 889821

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