Murder, Margaret and Me by Philip Meeks. Theatre Royal, Windsor to 5 October and then on tour. 3***. William Russell

Murder, Margaret and Me
By Philip Meeks.
Theatre Royal, 22 Thames Street, Windsor SL4 1PS to 5 October.
Mon-Sun 8pm. Mat Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 10 mins. One interval.
TICKETS: 01753 853888

Review: William Russell 3 October
A little too long for its own good – it would work far better cut down to a 90 to one hundred minute running time with no interval – this latest touring production of Philip Meeks imagined account of the friendship between Agatha Christie and Margaret Rutherford, who created the role of Miss Marple on the screen, is nevertheless a fascinating piece. Lin Blakley makes a nicely acerbic Christie tentatively approaching this new friend – she thought Rutherford was nothing like her Marple – and pouring acid on her other creation, Hercule Poirot, who she apparently could not stand. As someone called The Spinster Gilly Tompkins copes with a somewhat underwritten role pretty well, although it is never quite clear whether she is the Marple Christie imagined or simply someone to fill us in on the details Christie could not have done. The role is more of a device than a character. But there is no denying that Sarah Parks steals the show with a splendid performance as Rutherford – she has captured the essence of the actress, the lumbering presence, the trembling jowls, the bursts of speech and her innocence. Christie and Rutherford form an awkward friendship with Christie convinced there is something hidden in Rutherford’s life, something unadmitted and applying her forensic mind to it. In fact both women have their secrets. Christie never got over the fact that her first husband Archie Christie left her for another woman, although she did go on to a happy and long second marriage. But it appears to have been Archie’s betrayal that lay behind the famous missing weeks in her life. As for Rutherford, well there is no point in revealing her story but in spite of also having a long and happy marriage to the actor Stringer Davies she had many problems in spite of her successful career.
Director Damian Cruden has handled the play before – it has a past of successful tours – and the evening works pretty well as a tale of a friendship which should not really have worked but actually did. Christie dedicated The Mirror Cracked to Rutherford, although whether she ever read the book in anybody’s guess and the eventual all star cast film was one Christie herself detested. She did not think much either of some of the four films in which Rutherford appeared. But Meeks has played around with his work over the years tweaking it here and there and maybe what it needs is a new director saying stop, cut and get down to business rather than one so familiar with the piece. It takes far too long for Rutherford to appear for a start, and the essence of it all – the reason for watching – is the chemistry between the two women. But for Ms Parkes’ performance alone it is well worth seeing and she is not the only reason.

Agatha Christie: Lin Blakley.
Margaret Rutherford: Sarah Parks.
The Spinster: Gilly Tompkins.
Director: Damian Cruden.
Designer: Dawn Allsop.
Lighting Designer: Richard G Jones.
Sound Designer: Yvonne Gilbert.
Wigs: Darren Wares.
Production photography: Craig Sugden.
Tour Dates
Malvern Theatre – 8 – 12 October; Devonshire Park theatre, Eastbourne – 22 – 27 October; Haymarket, Basingstoke – 31 October – 2 November; Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds – 11 – 13 November.

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