Middle Ground Theatre Company are at The King’s Theatre with an adaptation by Leslie Darbon of Agatha Christie’s “A Murder is Announced” featuring the amateur sleuth skills of Miss Marple.
I have to admit that Miss Marple is not at the top of my list of characters created by Agatha Christie as her sleuthing around often borders to me on interference with a legitimate police investigation, but it does make a good story and good theatre.
This “Murder” is set in a Victorian house’s parlour/sitting room in October 1950 and a lot of care and attention has been paid to the period detailing of the set, costumes and hairstyles to give a nice period setting to the story. Agatha Christie stories always work best to me when they are set in or close to their original periods of writing as there is something about these stories that often seem firmly set into a way of life that has pretty much now gone...a slice of society and old fashioned mannerisims that have sadly been lost. Also a story that often has no allowance for the modern world and things like mobile phones and the internet (how crime writers must hate these at times as they have the ability to destroy plot lines).
If you are going to do an Agatha Christie play at any level though, the one thing you need is a good cast with a lot of experience and we get that tonight. Judy Cornwell (Miss Marple), Diane Fletcher (Letitia Blacklock) and Sarah Thomas (Dora Bunner) all have a wealth of stage and television experience over the years that allows them to put in really strong performances and give real weight to the story line as it turns and twists throughout the evening. Tom Butcher as Inspector Craddock gets the chance to play the sort of police detective who probably does not exist anymore and he always has a difficult job here because we all know that it is really Miss Marple who will somehow solve the murder.
As usual, there are a supporting cast of suspects with everyone and everything not as it initially seems and with that wonderful period set to work in everyone is on strong form tonight. Lydia Piechowiak as cook/maid of all jobs Mitzi does get to steal the show a bit with some great light comedy lines.
Everything started pretty slowly tonight as we were as usual introduced to who everyone was (or was supposed to be) and were set up for inevitable murder, but things picked up pace a lot in the second half. In fact a lot of things get explained in a very short period of time. A few scenes do puzzle me a bit – especially when the inspector sits down and gives Miss Marple some very private letters that are potentially crucial evidence to read and give her opinion on – why would he do that in the middle of an ongoing murder investigation?
Reviewing an Agatha Christie play is always difficult as you do never want to give too much away and spoil things for an audience, so I am really not going into the story line at all here.
This is a good adaptation of an Agatha Christie story. It is solidly set in the village of Chipping Cleghorn where not much happens (except murders) with pretty ordinary people and does not offer the opportunity for high society sets and extravagant costumes that some stories do, but it is apart from the murder a slice of mundane every day life and conversation and our cast do a great job of re-creating the “not very much happening”. As usual though, everything is in the words with little clues being dropped as we go along and of course the odd “red herring” or two thrown in too.
Review by Tom King