A Murder Is Announced

Apr 14 2016 | By More

★★★☆☆      Pleasing

Saughtonhall United Reformed Church: Wed 13 – Sat 16 Apr 2016
Review by Hugh Simpson

Thoughtful and well staged, Saughtonhall Drama Group’s production of Agatha Christie’s A Murder Is Announced is a solid evening’s entertainment.

The local paper in Chipping Cleghorn announces that there will be a murder at the large house occupied by Letitia Blacklock and her gaggle of friends, relatives and lodgers young and old. Although they dismiss it as a prank, sure enough there is soon a death. Fortunately, Jane Marple is staying nearby at her nephew’s vicarage….

Murray Petrie (Inspector Craddock) and Ishbel Shand ( Miss Marple). Photo Sarah Howley

Murray Petrie (Inspector Craddock) and Ishbel Shand ( Miss Marple). Photo Sarah Howley

The story is a well-worn and effective one, proceeding like clockwork – even if it does occasionally betray its origins as an adapted novel instead of a piece of drama. It does boast rather more talk than action, with a great deal of exposition, and artfully inserted clues both relevant and misleading.

This can make it very stiff and stagey. It is to director John Webster’s immense credit that the sections that feature a large cast, with a great deal to say but not much to do, are handled so efficiently. As a result, the production both opens and closes strongly.

The same cannot always be said for stretches in the middle where there are conversations between smaller numbers of performers, as the pace slackens notably here.

Ishbel Shand’s Miss Marple has less stage time than might be imagined. This is a shame, as here she is far less cuddly than she is frequently portrayed, being closer to the ever-so-slightly self-righteous busybody she surely should be.

hearteningly realistic

Shand’s performance is hearteningly realistic; this can also be said for Murray Petrie’s wearily sarcastic Inspector Craddock, who is, however, a little too understated at times.

Chris Mitchell (Letitia Blacklock), Ruth Gray(Julia Simmons), Judith Petrie(Dora Banner) and Scott Kerr (Patrick Simmons). Photo Sarah Howley

Chris Mitchell (Letitia Blacklock), Ruth Gray (Julia Simmons), Judith Petrie (Dora Banner) and Scott Kerr (Patrick Simmons). Photo Sarah Howley

Chris Mitchell’s Letitia is a poised, assured and very human central portrayal, while Judith Petrie strikes a suitably puzzled tone as her confused old friend Bunny, who has decidedly seen better days.

Scott Kerr, Ruth Gray and Louise Starkey are accomplished as Ms Blacklock’s young houseguests, who all seem so nice – but may of course be more than they appear.

Colin Mitchell and Betty Meston play neighbours the Swettenhams effectively, while Mark Kirkbride’s world-weary, down-at-heel police sergeant is a particularly pleasing cameo.

Mitzi, the comedy foreign servant of no fixed nationality, has been an insuperable challenge to many performers; not so Gillian McEvoy, who attacks the role with gusto and considerable comic ability, leading to several big laughs.

a decidedly camp edge

Perhaps the comedic potential of the rest of the script is milked a little at times, lending a decidedly camp edge to some of it that dissipates the tension. However, the tightness of the ensemble always reins things back and keeps events flowing. The fact that tension remained, even for those who were obviously well aware of the ending, shows that the pacing is about right.

The cast also overcome a couple of technical glitches – the blackout at one vital early moment is less than perfect, and the accompanying sound effects underwhelming.

Otherwise, the technical aspects of the production are sound. Jim Pryde’s solid, well-furnished set is particularly impressive, featuring doors that are integral to the plot and actually work, which is not always the case in productions with far greater resources.

This is definitely one of those ‘English’ murders Orwell described; no hint here of gritty Scandi-noir or even any blood to speak of. Instead, everyone is outwardly polite, even apologetic, while inside frustrations about class, money and status seethe – and when done as well as this, it remains quality entertainment.

Running time 2 hours 20 mins including 1 interval
Saughtonhall United Reformed Church, 87 Saughtonhall Drive, EH12 5TR
Wednesday 13 – Saturday 16 April 2016
Evenings Mon – Sat: 7:30pm; Matinee, Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and info from http://www.saughtonhall.com/dramagroup.html


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