A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED
New Theatre, Cardiff
Tue 11 Feb
In Agatha Christie’s A Murder Is Announced, the killing doesn’t simply happen out of the blue. In fact, all the residents of Chipping Cleghorn are fully aware where and when it will take place, thanks to an advertisement in the local newspaper: on Friday at Little Paddocks, the home of Letitia Blacklock, at 6.30pm. Luckily, little old Miss Marple pokes her nose in, albeit after the murder has taken place, to ensure that the killer doesn’t get away with it undetected. Packed with all the usual Christie plot tropes (hidden identities, clandestine affairs, financial discrepancies), its twists, turns and red herrings are considered to be some of the crime writer’s most ingenious after The Mousetrap.
In Leslie Darbon’s stage adaptation, one of the subplots in the original novel is omitted (thus robbing us of one other murder!), presumably to allow for a tighter, slicker theatrical experience that cannot “cut away” like a TV version. But it ends up rushing toward its denouement a little too hastily, before the audience have even had a chance to get their heads round the storyline — my advice would be to listen very closely, if you’re looking to solve it! Nevertheless, the script has more than enough humour and intrigue to satisfy even the most discerning Christie fans, alongside Michael Lunney’s traditional direction and design.
Sarah Thomas — perhaps best known as Glenda from Last of the Summer Wine — brings an exacting gaze and a low, magisterial voice to her own commendable rendition of Miss Marple [pictured top of page], played with comedic subtlety. Though her version of the spinster sleuth is truly her own, it’s hard not to compare her with all those other memorable portrayals of the role from past actresses: the pantomime battiness of Margaret Rutherford (not a favourite of Christie’s); the tweedy innocence of Julia McKenzie; the ruthless intellect of Joan Hickson (arguably the most iconic). Thomas’s Marple is somewhere between Hickson and McKenzie, but with an added sense of assurance and conviction, unflappable beneath her little hat.
Other fine performances are given by Barbara Wilshere as Letitia Blacklock [above] and Tom Butcher as Inspector Craddock. Meanwhile, Lydia Piechowiak makes the most of her minor role as Mitteleuropa refugee maid Mitzi, providing ample comic relief. The fact that the rest of the cast are all rather hammy is not overly off-putting, and fits comfortably with the melodramatic tenor of the material.
Of course, there’s nothing groundbreaking or new about this production, and at times the acting creaks almost as loudly as the scenery. But shows of this kind aren’t designed to be anything more than suspenseful escapism. This production delivers on its humble promises: a middlebrow murder mystery from the aptly named Middle Ground Theatre Company.
words SAM PRYCE photos MIDDLE GROUND THEATRE COMPANY
A Murder Is Announced is at the New Theatre, Cardiff until Sat 15 Feb. Tickets and info can be found here.