This play tells the fictionalised tale of the brief friendship between Agatha Christie and Margaret Rutherford at the time when Rutherford was playing Miss Marple in four British films(1961-3), most of which bore little relation to the books on which they were supposedly based, and which Christie loathed!
Lin Blakley is Agatha Christie, and is very convincing, thanks in part to a superb wig (Darren Ware). It is a massive role to which Ms Blakley gives considerable energy, in spite of occasionally being unsure of her lines.
Sarah Parks IS every inch Margaret Rutherford, totally believable but never a caricature, and having many of the mannerisms and expressions we associate with her. The voice is also pitched just right and physically she is the embodiment of Rutherford, thanks again to a superb wig, as well as imaginative costuming (Dawn Allsopp).
The third actor plays ‘The Spinster’ – and often seems superfluous. She is the narrator, Greek Chorus and at times the ‘real’ Miss Marple, but is never able to develop any role sufficiently to convince. This comment is no reflection on the excellent acting of Gilly Tompkins who does her best with what she is given.
Dawn Allsopp’s multi-purpose set, constructed and deconstructed by two stage hands, represents a film set at Pinewood, Christie’s ‘study’ and Rutherford’s cottage: it occupies much of stage left, meaning that the opposite side of the stage often seemed bare in comparison, and was not helped by being stretched to fit the wide Churchill proscenium.
The play itself is at its best when the playwright allows the protagonists to converse with each other – one of the most entertaining scenes being Tea at Claridge’s in Act Two, when Rutherford has enjoyed the gooseberry jam so much that she wants to either buy some, or put the jar in her handbag, in which she is aided and abetted by Christie.
But too often the three actors are just asked to speak monologues straight out to the audience. Here the play shows its origins: it was originally written by Philip Meeks in 2012 as a one woman play first performed in Edinburgh, and has since been expanded. In his programme notes Meeks writes about keeping the ‘frenetic spirit of the original’, but unfortunately he has not been able to do this, the pace being very sedate throughout, in spite of the efforts of the three actors.
The director, Damian Cruden, has done his best with the material he has. In order to add variety he has introduced music and sound effects (Yvonne Gilbert) under many of the long speeches, but the main effect of these is to take the focus away from what is being said. The play would have been much stronger if he had cut about thirty minutes, especially at the start of Act One, as Margaret and Agatha do not meet until half way through the act, and all the exposition the playwright gives us is just not necessary. As it stands it runs 2 hours 10 minutes, but seems longer.
Murder, Margaret and Me is billed as a ‘thrilling comedy’. It is neither, but is worth seeing if only for the acting of Blakley and Parks. After Bromley, it is on tour until 13 November, the nearest venue to London being Theatre Royal Windsor 30 September – 5 October.
Review by John Groves
Agatha Christie and Margaret Rutherford, two of our greatest and most celebrated national treasures, should never have been friends. But they were. Their paths crossed when they found themselves at the heart of one of British cinema’s most successful franchises. However, the Miss Marple films almost didn’t get made.
Agatha didn’t want Margaret to bring her precious spinster to life and Margaret was mortified at the thought of upsetting her fans with something as sordid as murder. But this wasn’t her only reason for resisting the part. Margaret had a tragedy buried deeply in her past. One that she’d lived with for a lifetime.
Murder, Margaret and Me is a story of friendship, identity and the achievement of women in the long-lost world of the silver screen. As Agatha and Margaret play tug of war with Miss Marple, the Queen of Crime (being a woman who wasn’t without a secret or two herself) finally unearths the shocking truth buried in Margaret’s past.
Lin Blakley plays Agatha Christie and is most recently known to audiences as Pam Coker in EastEnders. Sarah Parks plays Margaret Rutherford (RSC) and Gilly Tompkins plays The Spinster (Gangsta Granny).
Murder, Margaret and Me
at Churchill Theatre, Bromley
26th – 28th September 2019