The Mirror Crack’d – Royal and Derngate, Northampton

Reviewer: James Garrington

Writer: Agatha Christie

Adapter: Rachel Wagstaff

Director: Philip Franks

Agatha Christie remains a firm favourite with theatre audiences, and this week you can find Original Theatre’s version of The Mirror Crack’d at the Royal & Derngate. On the face of it this looks like a typical Country House whodunnit, but as it starts you realise that it is a long way from the typical formulaic detective story you might expect.

It’s the 1960s and things are changing in St Mary Mead. There’s a new housing development which unsettles many in the village, and there’s even now a supermarket. Then to top it all, the manor house has been bought by a rich American film star. Miss Marple is stuck at home after an accident, and then there’s a murder at the manor which has her and the police racing to find the killer before they strike again.

Rachel Wagstaff has adapted the novel with sensitivity and brings some real humanity into the characters. Where you often find sketchy, two-dimensional writing, here we have some emotional depth, real people with a past, with feelings and with vulnerabilities. This is not just a play about finding the killer, though of course, that is a large element of it, but also of exploring some of the most basic human emotions – love and loss, grief and fear, and the desire for revenge.

Leading the cast is Susie Blake as a classic Miss Marple. There have been many portrayals of the character over the years and Blake’s performance is up there with the best. Marple has always been deceptively astute, and a great reader of people, and here we have a character with a big heart. She’s a Marple with a past, and with her own pain which Blake portrays with great sensitivity.

Oliver Boot gives us a suitably stereotypical police detective as Chief Inspector Craddock, stomping his way insensitively through the suspects and witnesses when it is clear to all that Marple’s empathy will produce far better results, and Veronica Roberts gives us a classic portrayal of the local resident who is stuck in her ways and afraid of change as Dolly Bantry. Sophie Ward gives a well-judged performance of a cold yet superficially charming Marina Gregg, with Joe McFadden as her protective husband Jason Rudd.

Director Philip Franks has brought some nice little touches of humour into the piece, bits of business which the cast seize with relish, and Adrian Linford’s design is not only simple and effective, but also serves to give a more up-to-date feel to a story that has its roots forty years ago.

This is a Christie adaptation worth seeing – and even if you think you know what to expect from a Marple story this version will probably give you some surprises.

Runs Until 5 November 2022 and on tour

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