Before going to see A Murder Is Announced I chatted to a friend about the plot devices to look out for in an Agatha Christie whodunnit, and this popular work by the Queen of Crime Fiction is full of them. In fact, there are even more than I remembered, having seen various adaptations of the novel.
It would, of course, ruin it for audiences who do not know the work to go through them all but suffice to say if the investigating officer had read one of two of here works the plot would be reasonably straightforward to work out the killer and why. However, and it is a big however, there are so many layers of characters’ backstories, many interrelated, that I doubt many of the audience goers to this particular production would be able to explain them all to you once the curtain fell. Maybe if Miss Marple drew a flipchart family tree it would.
Middle Ground Theatre Company’s adaptation does not try to be anything particularly different, so we do not have updating or any gimmicks (like that flipchart!) Rather it is a nice, entertaining 1950s period piece, with director Michael Lunney sticking to a one set drawing-room production for the friends, family and hangers-on of Letitia Blacklock. The accents are a hoot, jolly clipped posh English, more working-class coppers and a crazy middle European/ Russian “refugee” maid.
As with other recent Agatha Christie productions, Miss Marple (here played charmingly by Sarah Thomas) doesn’t really make that much of an impact until the denouement. She is, as usual, the seemingly interfering old woman who gets under the skin of the police (in the shape of Tom Butcher’s Inspector Craddock) but eventually is admired by them as she cracks the case.
The most memorable acting comes from Barbara Wilshire’s Letitia Blacklock and her oldest friend Dora Bunner played superbly by Karen Drury. The younger characters Patrick, Julia and Phillipa are played, well, just as you would hope and expect in this stylised and clichéd middle class tale, by Will Huntington, Lucy Evans and Emma Fernell. I found Lydia Piechowiak’s accent a little confusing, playing Mitzi, which to the uninitiated could have made one suspect she wasn’t Russian at all. She does get the laughs though, largely as an outsider looking in and pointing out English idiosyncrasies.
Back to the main problem, Leslie Darbon’s script is not sufficiently lithe to enable the audience to fully follow the twists and turns as characters explain who they are, how they are related, and their role in the “big picture”. The visually most important revelation was also not explained clearly enough to have the required effect. It needs to be just slowed down a tinse so we mere mortals can take it in before the next great exposé.
Runs until February 15.