Review – A Murder is Announced

March 15, 2012 | By More

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Anne Mackenzie as Miss Marple and Graham Bell as Inspector Craddock in EPT's production of A Murder Is Announced. Photo © Robert Fuller

Church Hill Theatre

Review by Thom Dibdin
Intimations of a murder are announced with all due deference to plot, twists and true red herrings up at the Church Hill Theatre in EPT’s new  production of Agatha Christie’s A Murder Is Announced.

Adapted by Leslie Darbon from Christie’s novel, the play is a classic closed-room whodunit. It is set in the front room of Letitia Blacklock, a collector of several lost causes – all of whom seem to lodge in her large house in Chipping Cleghorn.

Between Blacklock’s bickering niece and nephew Julia and Patrick, a recently widowed mother Phillipa trying to get her son through private school, and Dora “Bunny” Bunner her best pal from years back who is going gently off her rocker, there is bound to be uproar when a notice in the local paper announces a murder will take place, in the house, at 6.30pm one Friday the 13th.

Not to forget the bonkers Hungarian maid, Mitzi, who already thinks all the police from back home are out to get her. Everyone else thinks it is all a great hoot – and a couple of neighbours, Mrs Swettenham and her son Edmund, even come round for a nose. Until 6.30pm arrives and with it a foul deed. Followed, as day follows night, by the arrival of Miss Marple.

There are a few instances of flappy performance, but under John Somerville’s direction the cast get the whole set up with a jolly ease that quite calls to mind 1950s England, and a section of the middle classes who have upper-class pretensions.

Helen E Nix is a trifle unsure as Letitia Blacklock in the opening scenes, but she grows more into the part as the play progresses. Kirsty Boyle has a nicely supercilious air as Julia and Gary Cain is spot on with his gung-ho, undergraduate humour as her brother, Patrick.

The two really tricky roles to get right are Bunny and Mitzi. Bev Wright could push Bunny’s scatterbrained forgetfulness a bit further, but she never tries to force it or find comedy that isn’t there. Lynn Cameron’s Mitzi is similarly well-controlled. Her accent works and you quite believe her bolshy attitude.

If the original book is famed, the adaptation is not the best piece of theatre on the planet. What makes it tricky is the way several of the characters spend lots of time on stage but have relatively little to say. The difficulty for the actor is in sustaining and creating a character, without detracting from the speaking roles. In this, Sally-Ann Coxon, as Phillipa, and Sheila Somerville as Mrs Swettenham do excellent jobs.

Most people who have read an Agatha Christie will have an idea of who Miss Marple will be, so Anne Mackenzie is potentially on a hiding to nothing in the role. However, she succeeds in creating a shrewd, bright-eyed character who might not be everyone’s picture of Marple but who is certainly a valid one.

Mackenzie also has an easy way on stage – her scenes with Graham Bell as Inspector Craddock are excellently done. Bell is excellent to watch throughout – and neither descend into the caricature that they might in a lesser production.

A lively, entertaining production, which while it is light entertainment doesn’t take the play too lightly. And, it must be said, is far, far superior to the excruciating professional production which played at the King’s Theatre back in 2001.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes.
Run ends Saturday 17 March 2012
Shows: daily 7.30pm.
Edinburgh People’s Theatre website: www.ept.org.uk

ENDS

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  1. Thom Dibdin says:

    For those who are interested – I started my review of the professional production at the King’s back in 2001 with the par:

    “The murder on the King’s stage is not announced. Announcing implies at least a modicum of effort. This murder is simply there. And not even Christie could have dreamt up the banal strangulation and choking to death of her twisting plot.”

    And finished:

    “Coming out of the theatre last night, I had been going to give the production two stars. You get one for standing on stage. But as for that second star, I can not for the life of me remember a reason to award it.”

    I must say that EPT easily earned their extra two stars beyond the one for standing on stage. And thinking back on it now, I have plenty of reasons for awarding them.