Writer: Agatha Christie
Adapter: Rachel Wagstaff
Director: Philip Franks
While her counterpart Hercules Poirot has appeared in at least half a dozen big budget, star-studded Hollywood adaptations of his adventures, to date Miss Marple has only appeared in one. The Mirror Crack’d from 1980 and based on Agatha Christie’s 1962 whodunnit starred Angela Lansbury as the mystery solving busybody alongside big names such as Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis, Kim Novak and Edward Fox. With this in mind, this particular Marple mystery must surely be the most seen and hence the most known, and yet the Original Theatre Company proves here that even a mystery that many may know the solution to can still be completely absorbing in the right hands.
On the surface, this particular book seems an ambitious choice for a stage adaption. Unlike Christie plays such as The Mousetrap and And Then There Were None, The Mirror Crack’d isn’t a story that can be confined to a single location. However, thanks to Rachel Wagstaff’s masterful adaptation, the extremely tight direction of Philip Franks, and Aidran Linford’s simple but oh-so effective design, the thought of setting an entire play in a mahogany panelled drawing room seems incredibly antiquated. Here we jump from Miss Marple’s home, to the stately Gossington Hall and even visit a film set quickly and easily thanks to imaginative use of lighting, furniture and props.
One of the many great things about this production is that Wagstaff has managed to make this sixty year old story feel fresh and relevant while still maintaining all of the hallmarks of traditional Christie. It’s a very delicate balance, but one that is achieved perfectly. Here we still have the snobbish attitudes of the residents of St Mary Mead about the nearby “development” of modern houses and the class of people that now live on their doorstep, along with dreaded modern ideas like supermarkets and showers. However, there are also head-on references to things like self-harm and homosexuality which are worked seamlessly into the story and which hugely enrich the piece. Equally important and impressive is the addition of much deeper character development and emotional context than Christie often felt necessary to add to her narratives. It is so refreshing to see a murder mystery that has more than just the requisite clues and red herrings, and here every character (including Marple herself) is given self-reflective or emotionally challenging moments to deepen their characters. It is a beautiful touch.
The cast are all extremely well suited to their roles. Susie Blake is wonderful as Marple, her portrayal getting a nice balance between the genteel Joan Hickson and the fiery Margaret Rutherford. This is a Jane Marple with a spark of mischief and a caring heart alongside her sharp intellect. Alongside her and barrelling around the stage more than a little reminiscent of the aforementioned Margaret Rutherford is Veronica Roberts as Dolly Bantry, such a different character to Marple and yet their connection and friendship feels so real in the hands of two such great performers. Oliver Boot as Chief Inspector Craddock has the perfect level of frustration and admiration for Miss Marple’s interference in his investigation and he elicits a fair few laughs as he seethes. Sophie Ward gives a nuanced performance as Marina Gregg, a fading star recovering from a breakdown and years of tragedy, and Joe McFadden plays her loving husband in a role that one wishes was slightly bigger. Special mention must also go to Jules Melvin as the unfortunate (first) murder victim Heather Leigh. Thanks to the multiple flashbacks, Melvin displays great versatility by playing the same scene several times from the perspective of different characters. The subtle differences in acting (and writing) of these alternatives is a perfect illustration that this is much more than a crusty old whodunit.
Runs until Saturday 24th September 2022.