THE SECRET ADVERSARY
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 28th April, 2015
Agatha Christie plays always prove popular so it’s surprising that no one has adapted the Tommy and Tuppence stories for the stage before now. This touring production by the Watermill Theatre addresses this oversight.
Rather than the naturalistic approach that is reserved for Christie’s courtroom dramas or country house murder mysteries where one location is all that is required, here the set is a multi-purpose stage-within-a-stage and theatricality is heightened. A cast of seven versatile actors populate the tale and provide their own musical accompaniment with on-stage instruments. It is 1920 and we are in London. Post-war austerity is all the rage and there are rumblings of general strikes and revolution in the air.
Unfortunately there are also rumblings in the sound design. Low frequency rumblings that hamper the dialogue. Sometimes traffic sounds and machinery noises can be discerned but the general din underscores the entire production. Perhaps it’s meant to convey a sense of menace. Perhaps it is meant to depict the locations – if so then this is at odds with the non-naturalistic approach of the rest of the presentation. I find it annoying in the extreme and unnecessary, and it saps the comic energy effusing from the players, and I long to stand up and shout, Turn the bloody thing off!
Despite this handicap, the cast delivers a slick and amusing performance, as our two heroes strive to foil a Bolshevik plot to overthrow British civilisation. Garmon Rhys gives us his Tommy, an all-round decent cove, brave and not too much of a drip. He delivers a wonderful masterclass in physical comedy – I now know what to do the next time I am tied to a chair! The charming Emerald O’Hanrahan shows us her Tuppence – an indefatigably plucky young woman up for fun and derring-do. Elizabeth Marsh is stunningly good in a range of roles, from a disgruntled French chef, to a Russian activist and a nightclub performer. Morgan Philpott is excellent value in his roles – indeed, the entire ensemble is superb (Sophie Scott, Kieran Buckeridge, and Nigel Lister, to namecheck those responsible!) unflagging in their energy and comic timing. Director Sarah Punshon captures a flavour of the age and her script co-written with Johann Hari glitters with innuendo and a generous helping of silliness. There are several moments of inventive brilliance: the keyhole scene, for example, and Tommy spying on the conspirators from a skylight… There is much of the brio and style of the long-running West End hit The 39 Steps: Christie’s original is more of a John Buchan adventure than her usual fare.
There is a political message, albeit a satirical one. Why should the rich have everything and the poor nothing? Any attempts to alter this status quo must, of course, be quashed! As the general election approaches, I say we need more unrest and protest, while this tongue-in-cheek production holds up the desire to keep things the way they have always been as something to be mocked, at the very least.