St. Luke’s Players in Victoria is the most recent company to stage my play, Casting for Murder, and the production team graciously invited me to come over to see the final performance and be the guest of honour at a post-show reception. My husband, Hugh, and I had been busy with Metro Theatre’s production of The Winslow Boy, so our trip to Vancouver Island had to be a day excursion, but we were very happy to be able to accept the invitation and go over for the final Sunday matinee.
It was well worth the trip, and we were so happy that we’d been able to attend. The production, under the expert direction of Tony Cain, was excellent. The staging was imaginative and effective, and the set was stylishly designed and exuded West Coast ambience. The costumes of Jane Krieger and Madeleine Mills struck just the right note, and the attractive visuals were augmented by an atmospheric soundscape with the noise of wind and sea intermingled with musical clips that heightened the tension at the appropriate moments.
To my delight, the casting was spot on. It was fascinating to see the actors appear, as each one perfectly matched the characters that I had created in my script. Elizabeth Brimacombe gave a bravura performance as Angela, the actress at the centre of the drama, and Kevin Rich was outstanding as Bertram Beary, the feisty councillor who drives the plot to its startling conclusion. Kathy Macovichuk demonstrated great virtuosity as Susan, the understudy with a secret agenda whose performance is critical if the final revelations are to carry the necessary punch, and Luke Krayenhoff delivered an impressive performance as John Rutherford, the mystery writer who is married to Angela. Perry Burton hit just the right combination of charm and menace as Steven Sanders, Drew Waveryn was hilarious as the alcoholic director of Angela’s play, and Deirdre Tipping was deliciously bitchy as the actress who may play second lead onstage, but has no intention of playing second fiddle offstage.
The St. Luke’s production was a perfect example of community theatre at its best. I was as impressed by the volunteer network and the efficient production crew as I was by the show itself. It’s obvious that a great number of people take a lot of pride in the theatrical productions and willingly give their time to provide support. A big thank you to everyone involved for a most enjoyable afternoon – a great production and a delightful reception. We felt most honoured to be there.
As we drove back to the ferry and prepared to head for home, Hugh and I found ourselves reminiscing about the way the play came about, and how it was Casting for Murder that provided the stimulus for my Beary mystery book series. It all began many years ago, during a period when ill health prevented me from singing. I turned to writing and produced two short stories with an opera-singing female sleuth whose brother was a detective inspector with the RCMP. The stories sat idle once I was singing again, but a few years later, after a lot of activity in local politics which introduced me to a fascinating assortment of city councillors, I wrote the short story, “To Catch an Actress”. This introduced the character of Bertram Beary, an outspoken, highly independent, politically incorrect civic politician who napped through the odd meeting but was always wily enough to outmanoeuvre the bureaucrats—not to mention catch the occasional murderer. My husband read the story and suggested that I turn it into a play. At the time, we were vacationing on the Sunshine Coast of B.C., so when I wrote the play, I changed the setting from Vancouver to the Coast, added more characters, and wrote the story as a three-act mystery play.
Under the title, Casting for Murder, the play premiered with the Vagabond Players in New Westminster in 2000, and has since gone on to other productions in locations all the way from Vancouver Island to Nova Scotia and back again. However, it was the original audience’s reaction to the character of Bertram Beary that inspired my mystery books, for when I saw how popular he was, I decided to give him a family and write some additional stories featuring these characters. Thus Beary gained a high-school-teacher wife and four grown children. Two of these were the opera-singing sleuth and her detective inspector brother from the earlier stories. The other two were Sylvia, the lawyer, and Juliette, the stay-at-home mother who also ran a puppet company.
I had several reasons for this choice of characters and the collective short-story format. I didn’t want to always write about Bertram Beary so I decided on a family group with varied backgrounds and skills. I chose characters that reflected my own experiences—other than Richard, but then, it’s hard to have a mystery novel without a policeman. The variety in the characters also enabled me to vary the story subjects. I could use my knowledge of theatre, politics and education as backgrounds for my plots, along with my husband’s experience with outdoor recreation.
People often try to pin my Beary family characters onto people within my own circle, but although the odd characteristic might sneak in, my story characters are imaginary. However, some elements and the odd incident are taken directly from life. I take a sentimental delight in giving Beary a motorhome name Arvy and a boat named The Optimist, both of which we own or have owned. Beary’s cat, Minx, the Manx, has resided with us for many years, and his dog, MacPuff, is unashamedly based on our beloved Max, who deserves a story all of his own—hence the Dog Blog on this site.
The first set of stories was very much an experiment. Because it was well received, I went on to a second book, and once again, it was audience/reader reaction that guided my direction from there. Bertram Beary as he appeared in Casting for Murder was the stimulus for publishing the story collection in the first place, but by the time the second book was out, the feedback from readers indicated another area of interest. They loved Beary and found him very entertaining, but the person whose ongoing story had caught their attention was Philippa, the singer. Young and single, she provided the element of romance, and suddenly I had readers asking me when she was going to settle down and who was to become her future mate. It was as if she had come to life and I had a host of relatives offering their opinions about her prospects. With that feedback, I felt compelled to continue the series, and Philippa’s story became the main thread that held the stories together. Now with the fourth Beary collection in print, I am moving on to a fifth book which, I hope, will provide the solution that these readers have been asking for.
Whether or not I will continue the series beyond that point is still a question mark. Another five books to marry Richard off? Maybe, maybe not? We shall see. But in the meantime, thank you to all the wonderful people at St. Luke’s Players for their great reminder of the way my series began. Their production of Casting for Murder showed Bertram Beary at his feisty, outspoken best. What a character! No wonder I couldn’t resist putting him in all those stories.