Middle Ground Theatre Company
at the Civic Theatre Chelmsford
for The Reviews Hub
A typically solid touring production from Middle Ground, Agatha Christie's A Murder Is Announced, adapted for the West End back in the 70s by Leslie Darbon.
It boasts a splendid set, designed by the show's director Michael Lunney – the 1950s powerfully evoked with everything, even the radiogram, in dark wood.
Little Paddocks is a large Victorian villa in Chipping Cleghorn, a sleepy village in “another world, where nothing happens”. Until a bizarre small ad in the local rag announces a murder …
Fortunately, Miss Jane Marple is on hand, taking the waters at a nearby spa. So she is able to help the local constabulary find their way through a tangle of plot twists, red herrings and double bluffs.
On the opening night of this leg of a lengthy tour, Judy Cornwell was unwell, so Cara Chase, who normally plays the nosy neighbour, stepped up into the tweedy two-piece to give us her “clever old busybody”. A nicely done Marple, sharp-witted but cool and collected. She heads a large cast, who, taking their cue from the furnishings perhaps, capture that lost world beguilingly.
Diane Fletcher is excellent as the doughty Letitia Blacklock – her dry wit and grande dame manners a constant delight. Her key scene with Chase is most effectively played.
An enjoyable Craddock from Tom Butcher – world-weary but drily droll. The large cast also boasts a comically hysterical migrant servant from Lydia Piechowiak, and a confused little old lady from Sarah Thomas. There's more to Edmund, the novelist son of Julie Bevan's Mrs Swettenham, than we get from Dean Smith's underpowered performance, but the two youngsters – dressed in a style that must have been old-fashioned even in the 50s – are persuasively done by Rachel Bright and Patrick Neyman.
The staging is stylish without being showy. The black-out and the gunshots are excellently achieved. The prostrate form before and after the interval, too. Lynette Webster's original music is tunefully atmospheric, cleverly referencing the hymn-tune chosen for the funeral of the second victim.
It's a complicated plot, with the finger of suspicion pointed at most of those present. Dresden figurines, Devon violets, a financier's will, a rope of pearls, a Swiss clinic, a sealed door and the Delicious Death birthday cake all have their part to play.
It is not, and would not claim to be, great drama. “Mildly amusing” as one character says, after the manner of a Murder Mystery party. But in this assured revival it provides theatrical pleasures by no means confined to second-guessing Miss Marple.