GO BACK FOR MURDER
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 25th November, 2013
On paper the premise for Agatha Christie’s 1960 play seems rather intriguing. Young woman comes to England from Canada to uncover the truth behind her parents’ deaths. Did her birth mother really poison her father? She meets, takes tea and interviews people who were material witnesses in the murder trial. One after the other… The first act is, in reality, a string of two-handed scenes in which the witnesses (now also suspects) spill their guts all-too-readily. The dialogue is like giving testimony in court rather than conversation. They all remark on how much the Canadian girl looks like her murderer mother.
In the second act, the cast are let off the leash as, in flashback, the events of that fateful day are played out, and they get to interact with each other at last, and we get to see a country-house murder after all.
Sophie Ward, all 60s hip in bobbed hair and a dress like a Mondrian painting plays her own mother (so that’s why they kept mentioning the resemblance!) contrasting the accents of mother and daughter very well. Gary Mavers is the victim, the artist and temperamental prick Amyas Crale – there is no pity engendered for him; the suspense comes from waiting for him to die. In this respect, Christie is playing to our darker side. And we love it.
In the first act, Lysette Anthony gives an overly mannered performance as Lady Elsa Greer but in the flashback she is more palatable as the artist’s model-cum-mistress. Stuffed shirts Robert Duncan and Antony Edridge have little to stretch them but they occupy the stage as potential culprits and atmosphere-bringers more than competently. The marvellous Liza Goddard is underused as Miss Williams the governess, and Georgia Neville makes for a rather grownup little girl. Tying it all together in the quasi-detective/narrator role is Ben Nealon as the dashing young solicitor.
Director Joe Harmston keeps the stage uncluttered – there is enough to create an impression of era and place – and keeps the company on the right side of caricature. The play is all about the puzzle, although what drives it is the notion that no two people remember an event in exactly the same way.