The Middle Ground Theatre Company are currently on a UK tour with the classic Agatha Christie tale A Murder is Announced, this time performed as a superb stage adaptation by Leslie Darbon. I was lucky enough to see the show at The Assembly Halls, Tunbridge Wells and put my sleuthing cap on to guess whodunit!
The play begins with an advertisement in the personal column of the local newspaper in Chipping Cleghorn announcing that a murder will occur on Friday 13th October at 6.30pm at Little Paddocks. The lady of the house insists it must be a joke but half the village, including Miss Marple, turn up to see what all the fuss is about. And lo and behold at 6.30pm bang, bang, … bang!
There have been numerous Miss Marple’s over the seventy years since the play was written, among them iconic performances ranging from the late great Margaret Rutherford to Joan Hickson, Geraldine McEwan and Julia Mackenzie, to name but a few. Sarah Thomas (Glenda in Last of the Summer Wine) plays Miss Marple in this production and was just as you would expect Miss Marple to be.
Throughout the play we meet an array of characters including Mitzi (Lydia Piechowiak) the hired help at Little Paddock’s who provides many hilarious moments. Excellent, too, is the wittering, fragile Bunny (Karen Drury), perpetually amused Patrick (Will Huntington), the femme fatale Julia (Lucy Evans) and the convincing mother-and-son Swettenhams (Dot Smith and Tom Gibbons) to name a few. I enjoyed Barbara Wilshere’s portrayal of Letitia Blacklock. Barbara is well known from various TV roles and theatre work, and she dominates the stage and shows an understanding of the role, peeling back the layers of her character. There’s also a strong performance too from Tom Butcher as Inspector Craddock – you may remember Tom played PC Steve Loxton in The Bill for seven years. Miss Marple and Inspector Craddock end up working together to help solve the murder and her insights are extremely valuable in solving the case and identifying the killer.
Throughout the play, the audience feels involved and attempts to decode the mystery with the detective. A few red herrings are introduced here and there to distract the viewers, which increase the involvement.
Director and designer Michael Lunnery has created a set that invites you in and the action all takes place in the one location, the stage curtain does come down between scenes to mark the passage of time. The audience feels like they have been transported into an old village, with a relaxed setting.
The music by Lynette Webster adds a layer to the theatrical performance as well. I’d recommend the play to any Agatha Christie fan, or anyone who enjoys watching murder mysteries in general. There’s twists and turns, suspense, and tragedy, with a little humour added for good measure and most important a great cast who bring the pages alive on stage.
Thanks to The Assembly Halls, for inviting us along to see the show and you can catch it now on tour.