A Murder is Announced – Churchill Theatre, London

Reviewer: David Guest

Writer: Agatha Christie

Adaptation: Leslie Darbon

Director: Michael Lunney

Were the killing of someone to be notified in advance today there would be buzzing of phones as the news was communicated via text and social media. In Agatha Christie’s 1950 whodunit A Murder is Announced an ad is placed in the local newspaper and attracts the keen attention of villagers rather than a worldwide contacts list. If the setting is old-fashioned this touring production proves the classic crime wears well. It has a similar feel to the long-running The Mousetrap.

Middle Ground never fails to produce productions rich in period detail and which unashamedly veer to the quaint and nostalgic rather than the creakily dated. This production has been doing the rounds for a few years, hampered only by coronavirus lockdowns, so it is to the credit of the strong cast that it is still fresh and engaging. The secret is ensuring that it’s all taken seriously rather than tongue in cheek, yet it never loses the deviousness and sense of fun beloved by the Queen of Crime.

A Murder is Announced is head-scratching enough for amateur sleuths but it is one of Christie’s stories that places some decent clues for armchair (or in this case theatre seat) detectives and there are a few knowing sighs of satisfaction around the auditorium when the murderer is revealed.

The redoubtable Miss Marple has been fairly played as slightly dotty in earlier versions of this production but here Sarah Thomas favours the Joan Hickson characterisation of the genteel and shrewd spinster who keeps her ears open and works things out by application of her experience. It’s an engaging performance, picking up all the razor-sharp traits dreamed up by Dame Agatha.

Particularly outstanding is Tom Butcher as a no-nonsense and intelligent Inspector Craddock, a 1950s forerunner of the sarcastic and bluff Van Der Valk or Morse. It’s a joy to see the policeman played other than as an ignorant buffoon. Butcher’s Craddock holds his own in the investigation, happy to bounce ideas off the formidable Miss Marple and they make a terrific double act who deserve their own spin-off!

Barbara Wilshere as Letitia Blacklock is suitably strait-laced, calm and collected, an ice maiden with a hint of mystery and whose Chipping Cleghorn home (tremendous design by Michael Lunney, who also directs with simplicity and sensitivity) is the announced venue for the murder,

There are lighter moments too thanks to Karen Drury’s dizzy Dora Brunner, Letty’s friend of many years, and Lydia Piechowiak’s East European maid Mitzi, steering the part away from parody and creating a memorably paranoid comedy character.While Darbon’s play doesn’t build up the other characters in the way the book does, the actors do their very best to make them stand out and remain in the mind: Lucy Evans and Will Huntington spar well as Julia and Patrick, Emma Fernell is a down to earth Phillipa, Tom Gibbons is a great left wing writer, and Dot Smith sails on to gain many chuckles as a nosy Mrs Swettenham.

It is certainly true that this production prefers the comfortable cosy crime that Christie showcased in her magnificent career and makes no attempt to be grittier or more contemporary, as newer adaptations have delivered. But Middle Ground gets the point of presenting this classic whodunit in a style that remains lovingly true to its roots and continually baffles the punters and does so in a way that is deliciously flawless.

Runs until 14 May 2022 and continues to tour

The Reviews Hub Score

Classic crime wears well

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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