THE SECRET ADVERSARY
by Agatha Christie adapted by Sarah Punshon and Johann Hari.
Tour to 9 May 2015.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 29 March at Royal & Derngate (Royal auditorium).
Pace and energy are hallmarks early Christie in new adaptation.
Though less well-known than either Hercule Poirot or Jane Marple, Agatha Christie’s co-detectives Tommy and Tuppence were career-long detectives for her, spanning half-a-century from their first appearance in her second book, 1922’s The Secret Adversary.
They evoke here the post-war world with lack of money and hints of a breezily amoral approach to life. It’s unsurprising they become detectives, but the pair initially join forces to earn money through any venturous activity that presents the prospect of payment.
They enter a young persons’ world of fast action and night-clubs, along with international espionage. It’s the kind of challenge Newbury’s Watermill Theatre, where this production opened, delights to face, and the multiple entrances economically devised within Tom Rogers’ set must have made an increased source of the comedy and adventure which director Sarah Punshon and co-adaptor Johann Hari create.
The intimate Watermill almost demands such a harum-scarum piece, with action flitting all over the place, acknowledges the audience lapping the stage’s edge. In a larger space, the self-conscious announcements, music and trickery work against the story’s reality. And that’s a quality particularly vital in Christie’s plotting.
While the adaptation’s comedy is entertaining, it tends to defuse, if not the mystery, then the excitement. With so much happening, and the action depending on the central characters staying alive, the various threats they face lack much sense of threat. A character’s extended attempt to escape from a room where he’s tied to a chair raises laughs, at the cost of becoming a comedy turn rather than a tense situation.
Yet the fast pace is admirably sustained with the cast respecting the style and maintaining the story’s momentum. Emerald O’Hanrahan and Garmon Rhys create a sympathetic investigative pair, neatly distinguishing her energetic adventurousness and his thoughtful planning. Their meeting, washing dishes in a restaurant whose bill they jointly cannot pay, establishes the humour and pace – though it is disfigured by an overly obvious food gag.
It’s all pleasant enough, but the real skill would be creating a crime story where, in the classic crime manner, humour helped intensify, rather than diffusing, the tension.
Julius: Kieran Buckeridge.
Sir James: Nigel Lister.
Rita/Kramenin: Elizabeth Marsh.
Tuppence: Emerald O’Hanrahan.
Whittington: Morgan Philpott.
Tommy: Garmon Rhys.
Annette: Sophie Scott.
Director: Sarah Punshon.
Designer: Tom Rogers.
Lighting: Howard Hudson.
Sound: David Gregory.
Music/Arranger: Alex Silverman.
Movement: John Micholson.
Choreographer: Lucy Cullingford.
Fight director: Philippe d’Orléans.
Magic consultant: John Bulleid.
Assistant director: Holly Mazur.
Assistant designer: Tom Oldham.