A Murder is Announced

May 4 2022 | By More

★★★☆☆   Dependable

King’s Theatre: Tue 3 – Sat 7 May 2022
Review by Tom Ralphs

The queen of crime returns to Edinburgh in Middle Ground Theatre Company’s long-running revival of Agatha Christie’s A Murder is Announced, which returns to the King’s until Saturday.

While there is probably no Miss Marple mystery that hasn’t been turned into a TV special or film on at least one occasion, it’s still a great opportunity for audiences to play whodunnit and pit their detection skills against those of an elderly spinster.

Karen Drury (Seated) with Barbara Wilshere, Dot Smith, Sarah Thomas, and Tom Gibbons. Pic Middle Ground

The plot centres around Letitia Blackstock (Barbara Wilshere) a woman who has recently returned from Switzerland to the sleepy village of Chipping Cleghorn and appears to be independently wealthy.

That there will be at least one death, alongside numerous red herrings, or that Miss Marple (Sarah Thomas) will solve the murder and succeed where Inspector Craddock (Tom Butcher) fails is never really in doubt, even without the opening premise of the play – that an advert has been placed in the local paper giving the date and time of a murder.

The big questions are: who will die and who will turn out to be the murderer?

Director Michael Lunny knows the format and plays a straight bat with his handling of Leslie Darbon’s adaptation. This is Marple for people who grew up with Joan Hickson, rather than anyone who’s first encounter with Christie has been recent adaptations of her work.

cosy crime

It is a reminder that Christie pioneered cosy crime before the term was even invented, creating a well-bred world at least one step removed from anything most of her readers would identify with.

Barbara Wilshere and Sarah Thomas. Pic Middle Ground

Thomas is perfect as Marple, combining the innocence and slightly dotty façade of the ageing spinster with hints of the razor-sharp acuity that will frustrate the Inspector and blindside the villains of the piece. As Craddock, Butcher is very much her foil but delivers just the right amount of detection skills and exasperated world-weariness to prevent the part slipping into caricature.

Wilshere also convinces as Letitia, caring about the health and wellbeing of her childhood friend Bunny (Karen Drury), with whom she is reunited following her return to Chipping Cleghorn. Drury’s portrayal of Bunny is less successful, swerving between generations and making it hard to picture the two as old friends.

Letitia’s niece and nephew, Julia (Lucy Evans) and Patrick (Will Huntington), exist in a world of endless summer lunches and foreign travel. Evans and Huntington turn them into grown-up versions of members of The Famous Five. It works within the context of the production – even if it would scream out anachronistic cliché outside of it.

plays on the stereotype

Lydia Piechowak gives the strongest performance, as Mitzi the maid who claims to have fled from some unnamed East European country where she was imprisoned and tortured – but who also changes her story every time she is asked. Piechowak plays on the stereotype, recognising all its comedic potential and delivering a performance that breaks from the Britishness of all those around her.

Lydia Piechowak. Pic Middle Ground

Adding to the list of potential suspects are Phillipa Haynes (Emma Fernell) and the Swettenhams, Clara (Dot Smith) and her son Edmund (Tom Gibbons). All three actors give good performances, but only Phillipa is a convincing suspect: the Swettenhams being too thinly drawn.

In this respect, Darbon’s 1977 adaptation and this production (last seen in 2016) highlight the problem of many adaptations of Christie’s books. Unlike the self-contained two-hour mysteries of her own scripts, the original has plots, sub-plots, motives and red herrings that need the space of a novel to come to life. On stage, it seems as if we’re only glimpsing all of these stories.

The final thirty minutes, revealing who’s who and what’s what, are very well scripted however, and more rewarding than the lengthy set up that dominates most of the first act.

A play and production that knows its audience and delivers what it sets out to do, without ever feeling that it’s trying to do anything that may bring Christie’s work to a new audience. But then, we have BBC and Channel 5 adaptations to do that.

Running time: Two hours and 20 minutes (including one interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ
Tuesday 3 – Saturday 7 May 2022
Evenings 7:30pm; Matinees Wed and Sat 2:30pm
Details and tickets: Book here.
Tour details: www.middlegroundtheatre.co.uk

Tom Butcher and Barbara Wilshere. Pic Middle Ground


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