Murderer in the midst
Theatre review by Henry Ascoli
Agatha Christie’s ‘A Murder is Announced’, Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
When the lights go out and darkness descends, anything can happen…
This deliciously complex murder mystery has all the hallmarks of the Queen of Crime: cold-blooded killing in a lavish country house prompting a murder investigation which grows ever more intriguing with every twist and turn, only for the smallest of details to finally reveal the culprit.
The residents of Chipping Cleghorn are astonished to read an advert in the local newspaper that a murder will take place this coming Friday (13th) at Little Paddocks, the home of Letitia Blacklock.
Unable to resist, the group gather at the house at the appointed time, when the lights go out and a gun is fired. Enter Miss Marple, who must unravel a complex series of relationships and events to solve the mystery of the killer...
Everyone seemingly has something to lose, but who has the most to gain…?
From the opening moments, it is evident that Middle Ground Theatre’s production seeks to stay true to the original in every sense – the detailed set a fine depiction of an ornate country house, the pace dictated by the weighty dialogue and frequent set changes.
These aspects improve greatly during the second act, as does the sound quality, yet still there is a sense that this production, which has great potential, falters on the finer details.
Judy Cornwell captures many of Miss Marple’s more endearing qualities as the sweet, unsuspecting old lady, yet struggles to get to grips with the other side of her character – the sharp-minded amateur sleuth who can unravel even the most complex of crimes.
Diane Fletcher, as Letitia Blacklock, masters the role of Lady of the House, capturing her character’s haughty temperament, but lacks conviction during the crucial final scenes, detracting from the sense of drama during the denouement.
Tom Butcher proves a fine casting as the dogged Inspector Craddock, unwavering in his efforts to discover the truth. Another typical Christie character, nevertheless a strong performance, often holding the play together – particularly during the lengthy first act.
Sarah Thomas is suitably dotty as Dora ‘Bunny’ Bunner, Letitia’s old school friend, and Dean Smith immerses himself in the role of left-wing intellectual Edmund Swettenham, whose stubborn nature and free-thinking mind ultimately prove vital.
Many of the play’s lighter moments belong to Lydia Piechowiak, playing the moody Mittleleuropa refugee Mitzi, hired cook at Little Paddocks. Incapable to make any dish minus garlic, prone to a tantrum, and constantly in fear of the killer on the loose in the house, Mitzi brings a much-needed dose of energy and unpredictability to the plot.
Indeed, the cast succeed in bringing out many of the best qualities of both the plot and production, showing a strong understanding of Christie’s writing.
For loyal fans of the Queen of Crime, this production appeals in many ways, but there is a sense that it is ruled by the past, when a fresh and original interpretation could offer so much more.
To book tickets and find out more, contact Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, 01483 440000, yvonne-arnaud.co.uk, @yvonnearnaud