Three stars

Most murder mysteries have a sense of the absurd, but this one, by current Exeter student Sarah Hand, goes further than most. Halfway through an awkward dinner party, the host escorts his guests and angry wife into the greenhouse, locks them in and tells them that nobody leaves until he’s discovered who murdered his plants. The chaos that follows is well-observed and well acted: Struan Murray is perfect as the deranged host Ronald, one moment threatening a guest with a trowel and the next cooing over his plants, Annina Lehmann has a lot of fun with the role of mysterious femme fatale Vlada, who angrily insists that she’s from Croydon, and Nicholas Pullen makes the most of his role as a bluff, hearty guest who always says the wrong thing (sample: “Well, Ronald, you may have lost your wife and your son and your friends, but you’ve kept your…er, your integrity. Yes.”)

Where the play falls down is in plotting: for a murder mystery, there isn’t a lot of mystery or that many red herrings, and though there are a lot of good one-liners, it can’t quite match Whodidit? at the TSAF last year for sheer deranged, sustained invention, though I loved the fact that the three couples present are Mr. and Mrs. A, B, and C. It’s a lot of fun, very well characterised and it fits perfectly into the Pilch Studio, which has exactly the right reverberant acoustic to bounce Ronald’s shouting off for maximum effect, but it never quite becomes brilliant comedy.

Further information on The Cactus Where Your Heart Should Be, as well as interviews with the cast and author