Novel by Agatha Christie
Adapted for the stage by Rachel Wagstaff
Director: Melly Still
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels
The name Agatha Christie is synonymous with thrillers that hold their appeal through the years – think The Mousetrap now entering its 67th record-breaking year on stage and still going strong. But a first-ever stage adaptation of one of Christie’s mystery novels is a rare bird.
Consequently, the staging of Christie’s crime thriller novel The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side (one of the Miss Marple series) attracts huge interest. Like many of Christie’s crime novels, it could more aptly be termed a psychological mystery and under the direction of Melly Still, it is this element that is paramount, with an intriguing sub-plot running alongside rather than beneath the surface that threatens at times to make the solving of the mystery superfluous.
The plot centres around the arrival of a film crew in the fictional village of St Mary Mead, home – as many reading this review no doubt will know – to Miss Marple, she of the beady eye and quick-witted intelligence. As the play opens, she has morphed into a querulous elderly lady, chair bound with an injured ankle and hating every moment of her temporary immobility. Cue for a murder to happen to get her detective juices flowing again when a local lady is murdered seemingly inexplicably. Question: has said victim a murky hidden past or could there have been some mistake? And, crucially, if so – who was the intended, and why?
Plenty of grist to the mill here. Unfortunately, Still has over-gilded the lily, and the result is a muddle. An overcrowded stage includes a posse of gyrating figures meant to emphasise the similarities with contemporary issues: loneliness, how memories and backgrounds dictate our lives – is just one of the unnecessary features. There is plenty here in the script to pinpoint such matters but overload plus unclear dialogue at times do not help matters. There are also a couple of anachronisms which could easily have been avoided.
In the first half, Susie Blake gives us an under the weather Miss Marple not coping well with the problems of getting older when you live alone. Popping in and out to give her a hand is her friend Dolly, a stereotypical country wife – Julia Hills gives a neat performance here. Thankfully, solving a murder gives Miss Marple the necessary incentive to spring back into action mentally if not physically and gives Blake the opportunity to play her the way Christie portrays her, with wit and insight, plus an occasional twinkle in the eye.
There is, of course, a Detective, here in the shape of Miss Marple’s nephew who also happens to be a Chief Inspector – one Dermot Craddock by name. Simon Shepherd is a classic CI Craddock: a trilby- wearing Detective reminiscent of JB Priestley’s iconic Inspector, appearing more concerned with doing things in the right order and as they should be done rather than getting down to brass tacks and solving the mystery.
All in all, it is the sub-plot, with family relationships coming to the fore and pinpointing several of the problems in today’s society that really intrigues, and here LAMDA -trained Katie Matsell, making her professional debut as Cherry, gives a sympathetic performance that bodes well for the future.
As the play draws to an end all is, of course, revealed – but by then do we really care?
Runs until Saturday 6th April 2019 | Image: Contributed