With a major new original production by the Wales Millennium Centre imminent in Cardiff, Chris Williams chats to Agatha Christie’s great-grandson James Prichard about the challenges of maintaining the Christie legacy.
Agatha Christie has been perennially popular, but according to James Prichard, her great-grandson and CEO of Agatha Christie Ltd, they are busier than ever. With the Kenneth Branagh Poirot films, the BBC’s Christmas versions and a stage version of The Mirror Crack’d, there seems to be more of an appetite than ever for Christie works.
“Poirot was a favourite on ITV for over 20 years, as well as Miss Marple. Her books have been made into films since the 1930s, but certainly the last few years there has been a massive resurgence in interest in Agatha Christie. Both here and in America and all around the world – we have been doing own-language versions on television in countries such as France, South Korea and Japan… and we’ve got various other stuff bubbling around. We’re probably as busy as we have ever been.”
When asked about the day-to-day workings of the company, James laughs: “The short answer is there isn’t a day-to-day.” Unsurprisingly with the variety of ways Christie’s works are adapted, Agatha Christie Ltd is “such a varied company and varied job. We deal with the rights from TV and film through publishing stage plays, and everything else besides. I can have a day on a TV set, I can be meeting people to talk about publishing; today I’m meeting with team members to discuss things.”
Famously, Christie’s cumulative book sales are outstripped only by Shakespeare and The Bible, and her books have, in total, received more translations than any other individual author. With this in mind you could be forgiven for thinking that Agatha Christie Ltd are rejecting projects left right and centre, but that’s not how it is.
“We tend to be more proactive than reactive, we’re approaching people and trying to get things off the ground. We’re getting things of the ground more than we are sitting here waiting for people to come to us.” The same proactive approach is taken with books: “We get the odd person who has written or wants to write something,” says Prichard, “but we’re doing new Poirot books with Sophie Hannah and there isn’t room to do more other than that, and at the moment we don’t really want to do anything else. No need or room to do more – we deal with relatively big projects.”
One of these is a stage production of a well-known Miss Marple novel, The Mirror Crack’d (From Side To Side). Along with a relatively quiet time regarding Christie on stage, Prichard cites the absence of Miss Marple from theatres as something interesting about the play. “This is obviously very different [from other Christie theatre works]: there are very few, if any, Christie plays with Miss Marple in, so having a Marple play in itself is interesting and extra.”
Prichard was also interested in the idea of creating a stage production based on a Christie novel “in a slightly more modern theatrical way”. Having now read the play and met with the director, he can’t wait to see exactly how Marple works on stage.
James Prichard’s grandfather was Hubert Prichard, a Welshman who married Christie’s only child, Rosalind; James’s father Matthew was brought up in the Vale Of Glamorgan. As such, The Mirror Crack’d’s status as a Wales Millennium Centre production pleases the playwright’s descendant: “It will be good for the Millennium Centre and all the people who are attached to it – and us as well.
“I’ve had a bit of a reappraisal of Marple,” says James when pressed for his favourite Agatha Christie work. “I grew up preferring Poirot. If I was going to pick a favourite today it might well be A Murder Is Announced, I read A Sleeping Murder the other day and found that remarkable. My favourite book is sometimes the one I’ve just read.”
The Mirror Crack’d, New Theatre, Cardiff, Tue 26 Mar-Sat 6 Apr. Tickets: £12-£33. Info: 029 2087 8889 / www.newtheatrecardiff.co.uk