THE MIRROR CRACK’D | STAGE REVIEW
New Theatre, Cardiff, Wed 27 Mar
It’s the 1960s, women are wearing trousers and there’s a supermarket in the village of St Mary Mead. Setting out its period stall early, classic 60s girl group songs play as people take their seats, while onstage an elderly lady (herself trousered) with an injured ankle sleeps in an armchair.
The woman is Miss Jane Marple and as the play begins she’s dreaming, a musical-style dream sequence that turns to a nightmarish memory of heartbreak. So opens this stage version of The Mirror Crack’d – this is not your grandma’s Miss Marple.
Marple stories have only been seen onstage twice before and not since the late 70s; this new production – joint venture between Wales Millennium Centre and Wiltshire Creative – has taken some modern creative choices. There are even a couple of meta nods to the genre, the most obvious one when one character asks, “Do you know whodunit yet?”
Chair-bound by an ankle injury, Marple (Susie Blake) listens as characters including Chief Inspector Craddock (Simon Shepherd) relay the deadly events of a cocktail party, where Heather Leigh met her end at the bottom of a poisoned strawberry daiquiri. As events are described from differing points of view, the action of the murder takes place onstage as flashbacks around Marple – inventively done with choreography and sound, the characters slow down, freeze frames and ‘rewind’. The actors’ movements also make for an inventive and efficient way to change the set, and dramatic near the end of the piece.
With a most of the action literally happening around her, Blake’s Marple is the centre of this play. As an actor with both comedy and drama background, her Marple carries a dry wit along with her keenness, but it’s her portrayal of the frailty and loneliness of age that really comes out this version. Writer Rachel Wagstaff has delved deeper into her character than the original ever did, and apart from some wonky accents, Blake is surrounded by a solid cast.
As a Christie fan, albeit not a Marple aficionado, I realised early on that I knew whodunit. Audiences might get a completely different experience watching this, but I was interested in seeing how they had adapted the story. There were story changes but nothing too drastic; the denouement was still the same. Ten minutes could have been shaved off the running time, perhaps, and personally I would have liked more set, although that’s a matter of artistic choice. A modern and ambitious version of Agatha Christie that hardly stops from beginning to end – but when it does pause, Susie Blake’s Marple shines.
words CHRIS WILLIAMS
The Mirror Crack’d is at the New Theatre until Sat 6 Apr