Writer: Agatha Christie
Stage Adaptation: Leslie Darbon
Director/Designer: Michael Lunney
Agatha Christie-still holds the title of Queen of the crime thriller. Despite her plays being penned many years ago and set in a bygone era, each one of them is still capable of sending shivers down the spine. Some more than others, and also dependant on the stage production – in the case of this review, Murder is Announced, Leslie Darbon’s adaptation, staged by Middle Ground Theatre Company and last performed here in Cardiff five years ago.
A notice that ‘A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 13th, at Little Paddocks at 6.30 p.m.’ is placed in the local paper of Chipping Cleghorn, a sleepy Cotswold village where nothing much ever happens. This notice is the starting point of one of the best known of Christie’s whodunnits. Despite some disbelief, the owner of the House, Letitia Blackstock, played by Barbara Wilshire, and her guests, plus a couple of neighbours, gather in the drawing-room of Little Paddocks to await events.
An authentic fifties setting, revealed as the curtain rises, is encouraging- costumes likewise – but sadly the opening scenes are curiously lacklustre; not only is some of the dialogue scarcely audible, resulting in the lack of the finer nuances so cleverly penned by Christie in this, her 50th crime novel.
It is, of course, Miss Marple – that astute, grey-haired lady of impeccable manners and insatiable curiosity – who is central in the Christie crime novels. There have been numerous Miss Marple’s over the seventy years since the play was written, among them iconic performances ranging from the late great Margaret Rutherford to Joan Hickson, Geraldine McEwan and Julia Mackenzie, to name but a few. Now Sarah Thomas, best known for her portrayal of Glenda in Last of the Summer Wine, still showing on TV’s Drama channel, joins that list. Under Lunney’s direction, Thomas’s Miss Marple makes her first appearance as a fluttery and somewhat vague little elderly lady but doesn’t quite cut the mustard in portraying, as the play progresses, the sharp mind lying behind the cosy façade which Miss Marple presents to the world. And where, oh where, are those trademark knitting needles?
In the role of Letitia Blackstock, in whose house the murder takes place, Barbara Wilshire, despite some hesitancy in the earlier scenes, shows an understanding of the role, peeling back the layers of the character as the raison d’ȇtre behind the murder is eventually revealed. Karen Drury is a delightfully scatty Dora Bunner and as the Mittel European maid Mitzi, Lydia Piechowiak’s sparky, often hilarious performance is a highlight of Middle Ground Theatre’s production this time around.
Reviewed on 11th February 2020 | Image: Contributed