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Highly Suspect Interview: Murder Mysteries at Edinburgh Fringe

Murder mysteries are the specialty of Cumbria-based Highly Suspect, who are known for their interactive whodunnits which have been at the past three Edinburgh Fringes. After seeing ‘Kathy & Stella Solve A Murder!’ in the West End last month and receiving a few murder mystery-themed press releases for this year’s festival, Highly Suspect’s novel approach to involving the audience in the story piqued my interest and I knew I wanted to ask the creative team more about how this affects their theatrical process. I had the opportunity to chat to ‘Murderer-in-Chief’ Michael Spencer and ‘Murderess-in-Chief’ Lexie Ward about the format of the murder mysteries, how the audience participate in case solving and also, how they are planning to bring two new shows to the festival this year: ‘The Fringe Fatality’ and ‘The Great British Bloodbath’.

A Highly Suspect Murder Mystery
© Highly Suspect

Can you tell me about the origins of Highly Suspect and what inspired you to produce interactive murder mysteries?

Our ‘Murderer In Chief’ Michael worked in a museum which had run a previous murder mystery event and was keen to do another, but was reluctant to cover the cost of hiring in a company to do it. So with infinite hubris (and crucially, having never been to such an event before) Michael – who when not in a museum also worked as a writer for stage – offered to put one together for them.

It could have gone oh so catastrophically wrong.

Mercifully, it didn’t!

The event sold out, the audience was hungry for more and within six months Michael had quit the job to become full time Murderer-In-Chief. It’s now ten years later, we’ve created over 35 different interactive mystery stories and performed across the length and breadth of the country, including three sell out runs at the Edinburgh Fringe.

The company creates performance and self-performed murder mysteries, what can you tell me about the structure of your work (in-person and at home)?

Our theatre shows are fully immersive and interactive. As audiences arrive they’ll be greeted by characters who will welcome them too  – at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe this will be either the finale of the hit tv series ‘The Great British Baking Bonanza’ [The Great British Bloodbath] or a production of the acclaimed Agatha Christie whodunnit ‘The Rat Trap’ [The Fringe Fatality]. As the show begins they’ll be bombarded by puns as it’s established where we are and what’s going on before – shock horror – there’s a terrible murder. A murder the audience must solve! To facilitate this we provide evidence packs containing all manner of clues that could be crucial to cracking the case: Crime Scene reports, threatening letters, strange codes found on the body, etc.

As the show progresses they’ll learn more about the suspects as the mystery unfolds and have the opportunity to contribute to solving the various mysteries and secrets they’ve discovered along the way. Ultimately they must deduce whodunnit and can share their theory, potentially even winning a sticker into the bargain.

They also write a limerick for reasons too tangential to explain.

Alongside our performance mysteries which we bring to theatres, libraries, trains, cathedrals – basically anywhere detectives can be found, we are happy to bring the show – we also have a selection of Self-Performed Mysteries that are a little more involved. Two of our actors will attend but the audience themselves play the suspects. We provide booklets and scripts so that they know what they’re doing, but essentially guests all get to play along in character and have to deduce who the killer is amongst them! Our actors facilitate the event, manage the chaos and keep things going in roughly the right order.  These tend to be popular alternative options for smaller groups who want an even more immersive experience, and we’ve loved getting to see a whole range of people interpret some of our iconic mystery characters in their own unique way!

A Highly Suspect Murder Mystery - Murder on the Disorient Express
© Highly Suspect

Mischief Theatre’s Henry Lewis described a previous production as ‘enormously good fun’, how do you keep the mysteries engaging and exciting performance after performance?

Given the interactive nature of our shows, no two performances are ever alike. Sometimes eager sleuths will solve things immediately and loudly and proudly declare their findings. While sometimes extracting a deduction from them can be like precision surgery. Hearing teams theorise as to the killer’s identity and motive at the end can be anything from awe inspiring to eye-waveringly hysterical as we discover what bizarre and brilliant tangents they may have explored to find their solution.

What can audiences expect from this year’s Edinburgh Fringe shows: The Fringe Fatality and The Great British Bloodbath?

Fun, frivolity and fatalities!

Two devious mysteries that will require cunning minds to solve – because they are fully solvable. Follow the evidence and in each case there is only ever one person who could have done it – but also two incredibly silly pun packed shows that should both tickle and be a treat for ‘the little grey cells’.

Plus if you solve the case, you get a sticker! And who doesn’t love stickers?

How are evidence packs and cryptic codes used in the new mysteries?

Each evidence pack is stuffed full of secrets to be solved that will help unlock the mysteries of the case. Some are obvious – the cryptic code is obviously there to be decrypted – but why include a wordsearch? Or a series of Tweets? There’s always more to it than meets the eye…

What does a day in the life of Highly Suspect at Fringe look like?


We commute into Edinburgh from Carlisle every day, so it starts with an early train ride, usually followed by some flyering on the Royal Mile if we’ve tickets left to sell. The cast always flyer themselves as the nature of the show is far too complicated to explain to a third party (see above!). After a quick bite to eat we perform our first show. As soon as the audience leaves we dash out after them to quick change, and then find a spot with a table to begin the task of switching our evidence packs over for the second mystery of the day. This means clearing and repacking 25 clipboards of clues – something for which we’ve now become a well oiled machine. Observers are usually so intrigued by the process, it’s been an effective way of occasionally selling a few last minute tickets!

Evidence repacked, we disperse back to do a second round of flyering or seeing a show if we’ve already sold out, before gathering again to perform the second show. Then it’s a dash back to the train station where we hope everything is running on time, and we repack the evidence on the train ready for the first show the following day. You’ll not find a harder working cast anywhere in Edinburgh!

A Highly Suspect Murder Mystery - The Fringe Fatality | Edinburgh Fringe
© Highly Suspect

How are you preparing for performing two mysteries a day (2nd – 24th August, excluding 11th and 18th)?

Mostly by blocking out the memories of how exhausting it was last time! Thankfully, our wonderful audiences keep us going. Having now brought so many different shows to the Fringe, we’ve amassed a troupe of regular faces who are always a pleasure to see and we love inducting ever more new sleuths into the Highly Suspect family/Murder cult every year!

What is your favourite part of taking the murder mysteries to Fringe each year and why?

Seeing eager faces young or old, seasoned veterans or brand new sleuths working together to crack out mysteries. Enjoying the satisfaction if they’re able to solve it, or the look of bafflement changing to clarity when the solution is revealed. There’s no other experience like it anywhere at the Fringe.

Fancy joining the Highly Suspect family?

If you are a budding sleuth or a fan of interactive theatre, you can catch Highly Suspect in action at theSpace @ Surgeons’ Hall from 2nd – 24th August (13:50 and 17:05, excluding 11th and 18th). I for one am definitely intrigued about the limerick and look forward to hearing audience reactions to this year’s Highly Suspect murder mysteries. Tickets for ‘The Fringe Fatality’ and ‘The Great British Bloodbath’ are available via the Edinburgh Fringe website.

Thanks for reading my blog today.

Love Kat xxxx



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