MURDER ON AIR
by Agatha Christie.
Tour to 20 September 2014.
Runs 1hr 50min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 30 July at Milton Keynes Theatre.
Ingenuity of plot and creation of a sound-world impress.
As well as writing a lot – the ‘Queen of Crime’ created a large empire – Agatha Christie moved between various forms, writing a number of thirty-minute radio scripts. The most famous was 1948’s Three Blind Mice, later expanded into a stage play and cunningly retitled The Mousetrap.
This programme stages three radio plays. Two, from the early 1950s, show awareness of radio drama’s strengths and possibilities. Personal Call contrasts the social chat of an affluent drinks party with the sudden quiet when a door is closed and an eerie voice comes over the ’phone.
For a time it seems the author is moving into ghostly territory but explanation and motive gradually emerge. As with Butter in a Lordly Dish, revenge for crime or injustice looms large, creating sympathy for the perpetrator – though moral matters are more complex in Butter.
Between comes an earlier piece, from 1937, The Yellow Iris, set partly in a night-club against songs (lyrics from the time by Christopher Hassall, and, the original music being lost, new tunes from Alexander S Burmange).
Christie later expanded and considerably altered the play as a novel, losing, on the way, her Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Radio as a dramatic medium and Christie’s skill in it both seem to have developed considerably between the eras represented, with the earlier play dramatically simpler yet more cluttered.
Staging radio broadcasts has become popular, from Whisky Galore to Round the Horne. Joe Harmston’s production carefully recreates studio conditions, cast members sitting-out when not required, or creating background sounds – what sounds purposeful striding is seen to be tramping up and down. A steam-train is evoked by simple microphone technique.
There’s no pretence at a radio ensemble; Tom Conti and Jenny Seagrove take the lead roles. Conti, especially, transcends the more banal aspects of his dialogue, as murderer or murderee. His style seems relaxed and drawling, but builds a strong sense of character.
And there’s the added fun of the old-style BBC announcements from Burmange, who also provides a range of sound-effects at the side.
Christie is evidently crime’s queen on air as by land or sea.
Cast: Tom Conti, Jenny Seagrove, Louise Faulkner, Simon Linnell, David Osmond, David Partridge.
Foley Artist/Pianist: Alexander S Burmange.
Director: Joe Harmston.
Designer: Simon Scullion.
Lighting: Mark Howlett.
Sound: Ian Horrocks-Taylor.
31 July-2 Aug 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm Richmond Theatre 0844 871 7651 www.atgtickets.com/venues/richmond-theatre
5-9- August 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm New Victoria Theatre Woking 0844 871 7645 www.atgtickets.com/venues/new-victoria-theatre
1-6 September 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Theatre Royal Brighton 0844 871 7650 www.atgtickets.com/venues/theatre-royal-brighton
16-20 Sept 8pm Mat Wed, Thu, Sat 2pm The Lowry (Quays Theatre) Salford 0843 208 6000 www.thelowry.com