A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED
Derby Theatre, Tuesday 29th January, 2012
Brother and sister Patrick and Julia are staying with their aunt Lettie in her home in the sleepy village of Chipping Cragburn. Also knocking around are Lettie’s old friend Dora Bunner, young widow Phillipa, Mrs Swettenham and her son Edmund, and Eastern European housemaid Mitzi… They come across an advertisement in the local paper that someone in that very house is to be murdered that very day at 6:30pm. Speculation runs rife: who would do such a thing? Who’s for the chop? As nerves begin to fray, revelations are teased out. No one is who they seem…
This is the set-up for Agatha Christie’s play, a sort of who-will-do-it, currently on tour. I’ve seen several productions of these things by Ian Dickens and they are generally of a high standard. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for this slow-moving and verbose piece – you can forgive a lot of things if the mystery is intriguing and puzzling enough to keep you hooked. This one, I’m afraid doesn’t cut it.
Katy Manning is the lynchpin as Aunt Lettie, elegantly stalking around in high heels (and almost stumbling off them at one point). She is something of a cold fish and consequently, we don’t care. Her childhood friend, we are led to believe, is Dora Bunner – Claire Fisher plays the spinster as a whiny, childlike, on-some-kind-of-spectrum figure; she is consistent in her characterisation, I’ll give her that, but it’s very wearing on the patience. A bit of variety in delivery would make her more sympathetic and also she could do with looking older – at first I thought she was a younger sister or even daughter.
Gemma Bissix is underused as the snitty, bored Julia. Dean Gaffney as her brother Patrick seems to have a self-satisfied smile plastered to his fizzog. He’s supposed to be the urbane twit of the piece but, and this is symptomatic of the whole, lacks the verve and energy necessary to bring the play to life.
Here’s the thing: you cannot perform a piece like this entirely naturalistically. The characters aren’t fully rounded representations of people. They are sketches, types, and sometimes only ciphers. You have to heighten the portrayal to draw us in. In my view, those who pull off this feat are Julia Main as Mitzi the maid, Geraldine Newman as amateur sleuth Miss Marple, and John D Collins as Inspector Craddock. These three seem to have a spark I couldn’t detect in the rest of the cast, although Poppy Meadows as widow-with-a-secret Phillipa has her moments.
The plot, more contrived than a Heath Robinson contraption, lumbers on for over two and a half hours. Not enough jeopardy and not enough murders. The cast seemed to be forever bumping into the furniture and the names of the village and some unseen foreign characters caused them difficulties.
I fear this production has murdered my enthusiasm for these Agatha Christie plays, and I’ve got another one lined up next week.