A Murder is Announced – Royal and Derngate, Northampton

Reviewer: James Garrington

Writer: Agatha Christie

Adaptor: Leslie Darbon

Director: Michael Lunney

The time when people would look forward to the next Agatha Christie novel has passed, but her work is loved by millions of fans around the world – and, 70 years on from its first publication, A Murder is Announced remains one of the classics.

Letitia Blacklock has some old friends and distant relatives staying with her at her home, Little Paddocks. Then one Friday 13th, they find an announcement in the local newspaper. A murder is announced and will take place at 6.30 that evening in their home. The members of the household are not the only people to read it – and as 6.30 approaches some local residents also appear, curious to see what will transpire.

The appointed time arrives, and suddenly the lights go out. There is a strange voice, a gunshot, more gunshots, and when the lights are turned back on, sure enough, there has been a death.

As luck would have it, amateur sleuth Miss Marple happens to be staying in the village and she must unravel some complex relationships and strange events to help the police identify the killer.

This being Agatha Christie, there are red herrings and false trails galore as snippets of information come out, all designed to tempt the audience into thinking first one person then another must be the culprit, right up to the final dénouement when you realise that all the clues to the killer were there if only you’d spotted them.

Middle Ground Theatre Company has assembled a strong cast of 12 for the play. It’s always tricky playing a character when we’re all familiar with the versions we’ve seen on the screen, and Sarah Thomas puts her own stamp on Miss Marple, making her feel familiar yet different. Barbara Wilshire is in good form as Letitia, with Karen Drury appearing suitably distracted as her old friend Bunny Bunner. Tom Butcher (Inspector Craddock) and Jog Maher (Sergeant Mellors) are stereotypically down-to-earth police officers, standing out as different among the often crisp RP accents surrounding them, with Lydia Piechowiak shining as Mitzi, Letitia’s highly-strung middle-European cook of no specific nationality, who is convinced that everyone suspects her because she is foreign.

The single set, designed by director Michael Lunney, is a typical drawing-room in a large Victorian house. There is an assortment of characters, each in turn maybe not quite what they seem, a murder, a detective – everything you’d hope to find in a classic murder mystery. You know that Miss Marple will solve the case, you know that she’ll have to work to make the police accept her help, you know that you’ll be dragged down some blind alleys – but that all adds to the entertainment. Plus, if you haven’t read the book, there’s extra fun in trying to work out whodunnit before the police do.

It’s a good, solid piece of Agatha Christie for a cold and dark winter evening.

Runs until 18 January 2020

The Reviews Hub Score

Solid Christie

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. 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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