Apart from my mother, the only other woman with whom I’ve had a lifelong relationship is Dame Agatha Christie. Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Tommy & Tuppence, I’ve read them all. I’ve seen the movies and TV shows and been to see The Mousetrap twice, so I was very excited to head to the Churchill Theatre Bromley when the touring version of A Murder is Announced dropped in.
Friday morning at Little Paddocks, Chipping Gleghorn meant one thing to Dora Bunner (Sarah Thomas) and that was the arrival of the local paper which she would pour over learning everything that was important in the village. This particular Friday was no different except that in the small ads there was a very strange announcement “A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 29th, at Little Paddocks, at 6:30 p.m. Friends accept this, the only intimation.” Letitia Blacklock (Janet Dibley), the owner of the house treats the announcement as a joke initially. She thinks it is the work of her nephew Patrick Simmons (Will Huntington) or her niece Julia (Lucy Evans) but they deny all knowledge suggesting it might be Phillipa Haymes (Alicia Ambrose-Bayly) who also lives at Little Paddocks. Whoever is responsible, Letitia knows what will happen later. Her neighbour Mrs Swettenham (Cara Chase) and her son Edmund (Dean Smith) will pop in, ostensibly for a chat but in reality to see what happens at 6:30. Accordingly, Letitia instructs everyone to be present and asks her cook/housekeeper Mitzi (Lydia Piechowiak) to prepare some party food for the visitors. At the appointed hour, everyone is assembled. Will anything occur and if it does then will the collective brains of Inspector Craddock (Tom Butcher) and local amateur sleuth Miss Marple (Louise Jameson) be able to assemble the clues and solve the puzzle?
Having read A Murder is Announced many times I came to the show knowing not only who the guilty party – or parties – was/were but also all of the other characters in the story. Luckily, Helen, my companion for the evening had not read the book and so everything was a surprise to her. And, I have to say, as a murder mystery play A Murder is Announced works extremely well. Helen and I spent the whole of the interval discussing likely suspects – with me desperately biting my tongue so as not to give away any spoilers – and the final revelations definitely took Helen – and going by some of the gasps around me, most of the audience – by surprise.
Leslie Darbon’s stage adaptation works very well though I was surprised how many of the original ‘cast’ from the book were excised from the play. While I can understand the logic of keeping the cast fairly small, I did feel a couple more suspects would have really added to the mix. However, Michael Lunney – who directs and has designed the show – has brought together a fine cast and put them in an instantly recognisable Agatha Christie set and costumes. Michael has also brought out a lot of the humour in the story, which works well to keep the story from getting too heavy with the stench of death and deceit. One other point about the directing. When the first event occurred, I was watching the guilty and not a foot was put wrong in his/her/their movements which I have to say was an excellent directorial touch.
Unfortunately for me, there are really only two actresses that can bring Jane Marple to life – Dame Margaret Rutherford and Joan Hickson – but Louise Jameson is a very believable Miss Marple, though, for me, she felt and looked a little too young and attractive to be the wise old spinster. Janet Dibley was absolutely perfect as Letitia Blacklock. A wonderful middle-aged English Lady (with a capital L) imbued with the poise and calmness that was the backbone of the British Empire at one point. A complete contrast to the wonderfully scatty and forgetful Dora Bunner as played by Sarah Thomas with gusto – some excellent looks and asides during the birthday party. The rest of the cast were all pretty much as you would picture an Agatha Christie cast of characters. Everyone is open but everyone has something to hide the actors bring both those sides to every movement of their respective person.
Summing up, A Murder is Announced is a really great representation of quite a complicated Agatha Christie book. Even with the pared down characters, there are enough red herrings and real clues to keep everyone from a novice to a full-on aficionado of the lady’s work.
Review by Terry Eastham
From the company who brought you the highly acclaimed courtroom drama The Verdict, Middle Ground Theatre Company Ltd is delighted to present their acclaimed production of a classic Miss Marple mystery.
Starring Louise Jameson (Eastenders/Bergerac/Doctor Who) as Miss Marple and Janet Dibley (The Two Of Us/Doctors) as Letitia Blacklock, with Tom Butcher (Doctors/The Bill), Sarah Thomas (Last Of The Summer Wine), Lucy Evans (Coronation Street) and Dean Smith (Waterloo Road/Last Tango In Halifax) in a full cast of twelve.
The residents of Chipping Cleghorn are astonished to read an advert in the local newspaper that a murder will take place this coming Friday 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…
A Murder is Announced
Churchill Theatre, Bromley
TUE 7 – SAT 11 NOV 2017