A Murder is Announced was Agatha Christie’s fiftieth novel, published in 1950 and adapted into a stage play by Leslie Darbon in 1977. Middle Ground’s production of one of Christie’s most intricately plotted Miss Marple tales has now been touring the UK for six years, and visited the Churchill, Bromley way back in 2017, when the cast was slightly ‘starrier’!
The residents of the village of Chipping Cleghorn are shocked when they read an advertisement proclaiming that a murder will take place at 6.30 pm on Friday 29th October at Little Paddocks, home of Letitia Blacklock. Many of them happen to be passing and call in at that time just to see what, if anything, will occur. Actually, nothing like as many of them in the play as in the original novel, considerably reducing the list of suspects when the (spoiler alert) the murder does actually occur!
It is, of course, investigated by Miss Marple, played this time around by Sarah Thomas – she was in a less important role in 2017! She avoids trying to copy any of the other actors whom you may have seen as Miss Marple on TV or film (I once saw Cicely Courtneidge in this role – a never to be forgotten experience: no one else on stage had a chance!), and it is to her credit that she is almost believable! She assists or hinders, depending on your point of view, Inspector Craddock (Tom Butcher), who speaks, for some reason, in a highly suspect Midlands accent, but gives energy to the play whenever he is present, and is eminently watchable.
Amongst the rest of the cast of twelve, Karen Drury is impressive as Dora Bunner, projecting her dialogue right to the back of the house, which a few others do not, and, again, giving the play’s pace. Barbara Wilshere is very believable in the role of Letitia Blacklock, in whose house the murder occurs, appearing to be in total control, but all the time having to hold on to the back of the chair centre stage.
Mitzi, the cook/maid gives much light relief when required in the hands of Lydia Piechowiak and Dot Smith and Tom Gibbons caricature their roles as Mrs Swettenham and her son Edmund just enough so that we begin to suspect them…
In the large space of the Churchill Theatre, Will Huntington needs to project his lines more at the start of the play, and Luke Rhodri’s acting was simply superb as Rudi Scherz – he did everything he was asked of him!
Set design and direction are by Michael Lunney, and I was very pleasantly surprised that, for a production that has been touring for so long, it came up fresh, reminding me of many “weekly rep” productions that I had seen in my youth! Even the set bears no signs of having been toured for so long: all credit to the professionalism of Middle Ground.
A Murder Is Announced makes for undemanding, unpretentious, pleasant, relaxing, entertainment, even if you already know the plot! Some in the audience clearly did not, as I am reliably informed that most of the long queue in the ‘Ladies’ afterwards were asking each other to explain what had happened, and failing in their quest!
It continues its tour to Eastbourne, Nottingham and Malvern, ending (for the present?) at ATG’s New Victoria Theatre Woking in June.
Review by John Groves
Middle Ground Theatre Company Ltd is delighted to present their acclaimed production of a classic Miss Marple mystery.
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.
Adapted for the stage by Leslie Darbon
Directed & designed by Michael Lunney
Starring Sarah Thomas (Last Of The Summer Wine), Barbara Wilshere (The Lakes/The Paradise Club), Tom Butcher (The Bill/Doctors), Karen Drury (Brookside), Lucy Evans (Coronation Street), Tom Gibbons (The Archers) plus a full supporting cast.
A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED – A MISS MARPLE MYSTERY
Churchill Theatre, Bromley
TUE 10 – SAT 14 MAY 2022
Running Time: Approx. 2 hrs 20 mins including interval