THEATRE ROYAL PLYMOUTH – 28 SEPTEMBER 2019 & TOUR
A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED
RUNNING TIME 2 HOURS 20 MINUTES – 1 interval
Theatre Royal Plymouth Box Office – 01752 267222
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 24 SEPTEMBER 2019
Middle Ground Theatre Company have built a reputation on producing well-staged classics and new adaptations of novels. The man behind much of their work, Michael Lunney, turns his hand to so many aspects of the plays and the results are plain for all to see in the productions which tour successfully around the country.
Agatha Christie remains a staple of the amateur theatre world, with the professional production of ‘The Mousetrap’ still, fairly inexplicably, running in the West End. Occasionally a new production appears, as it did earlier this year with an adaptation of Christie’s book, ‘The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side’ in which writer and director tried to be too clever for their own good and obscured a good story with ill-judged staging and dreary dialogue. That said the Kevin Elyot version of ‘And Then There Were None’ in 2005 was startling, faithful and thrilling. There is a fine line to be followed in dealing with Christie on stage and this version of ‘A Murder is Announced’ by Leslie Darbon appeared on stage in 1977, the year after the death of the great detective story-teller. It is a faithful telling of the story with inevitable culling of characters from the original book – there is no tinkering with the genre here.
An announcement in the local Chipping Cleghorn newspaper tells of a murder to be committed at Little Paddocks, the home of Letitia Blacklock – the event attracts others at the given time, including Miss Marple. What follows is a story of deception, impersonation and greed. There are revelations and shocks and death. It is regular Christie territory.
Michael Lunney costumes, designs and directs the production which he does absolutely by the book – there is nothing experimental about his approach. In the original play script, the setting of the time says ‘Time – Agatha Christie Time’ – which this undoubtedly is though we are very much 1950’s with a solid Victorian interior.
The question is, why is the end result really rather dull?
The dialogue is dated by modern standards and it takes skill to pull some of it off and maybe a little more pace would paper over the cracks. The plot contains a complicated backstory which you have to listen to incredibly carefully to be able to unravel it – I am guessing that many of the audience got lost in it. The adaptation, though faithful, is the ultimate culprit here. It needs a revision!
Miss Marple is one of those parts which you may identify either by the character in the book or by an actress who has portrayed her on stage or screen. Sarah Thomas is absolutely fine – no surprises or experiments with the characterisation. Kazia Pelka does what is asked of her in the central role as Miss Blacklock and Jenny Funnell is appropriately ‘not quite with it’ as Dora, though her most dramatic moment is as muted as the rest of the production. It was refreshing to see a police inspector who wasn’t made out to be an idiot and Tom Butcher is the stand-out performer here with a wry turn of phrase from his straight-talking Inspector Craddock. Light relief comes in the form of the housemaid Mitzi – excellent work from Lydia Piechowiak. Many of the rest of the roles don’t have a great deal to grab on to and the actors do what they can in the circumstances.
Some sombre music from Lynette Webster is nice to listen to but doesn’t lighten the mood of the piece.
I applaud the work of Middle Ground; they are faithful and offer great quality, but this is sadly not the greatest adaptation of Christie to work with and the production cannot overcome its shortcomings.
LETITIA BLACKLOCK – KAZIA PELKA
JULIA SIMMONS – LUCY EVANS
DORA BUNNER – JENNY FUNNELL
PATRICK SIMMONS – WILL HUNTINGTON
MITZI – LYDIA PIECHOWIAK
MISS MARPLE – SARAH THOMAS
PHILLIPA HAYMES – EMMA FERNELL
MRS SWETTENHAM – CARA CHASE
EDMUND SWETTENHAM – TOM GIBBONS
RUDI SCHERZ – ADAM LLOYD-JAMES
INSPECTOR CRADDOCK – TOM BUTCHER
SERGEANT MELLORS – JOG MAHER
ADAPTATION BY LESLIE DARBON
DESIGN & DIRECTION – MICHAEL LUNNEY
LIGHTING – JEREMY BARNABY
MUSIC – LYNETTE WEBSTER
COSTUME DESIGN – MICHAEL LUNNEY
A MIDDLE GROUND THEATRE COMPANY PRODUCTION