Written by Agatha Christie
Adapted by Leslie Darbon
Directed by Michael Lunney
Not quite reaching the monumental feat of Christie’s juggernaut of the Westend, The Mousetrap, A Murder is Announced continues its tour originating from 2015 by Middle Ground Theatre – still an impressive feat for the production, and an evident cry at the nation’s continued passion for their favourite topic; Murder.
In the local Gazette, a murder is quite literally announced as the personal advertisements reveal the intentions of a killer – to take the life of an inhabitant of the village, on a specific date at 6.30pm, at the home of Letitia Paddocks. Most write it off as nonsense, while others flock to the site of the murder to get in on the gossip, but the smart ones suspect there might be something to this threat – but no one is prepared for what transpires. Three gunshots. A dead ‘burglar’, and a series of secrets which gradually unravel to ensnare the entire village of Chipping Cleghorn.
Momentarily, the antiquated aesthetic of Michael Lunney’s direction has tremendous benefits – the lowering and raising of the stage curtain to enable cast changes, while at first an odd choice, does offer a significant benefit as audiences take the chance to stroke their moustaches and don their deerstalkers, suddenly all transformed into miniature gumshoes of their own. It without question ensnares both the time-period and aura it strives for, if a little rose-tinted. Perhaps it’s this idealised mild-manner, or even the penchant for knitting which drives audiences to return time and again to the soft armchairs of a Marple tale.
But the script has much to divulge in the initial Act, so much so that the character of Marple suffers somewhat – to the extent where Tom Butcher’s engagingly endearing Detective Inspector becomes the main star, as he begins to unearth as many secrets as the armchair sleuth herself. Thomas certainly takes back the reins within the second Act, with the juicier of reveals to play a part in, as a keen eyed Marple, quick-witted and capable to hold a room, even with the most nefarious of rogues sharing the space.
It seems the target of the assassination is dear old Letty, owner of Little Paddocks and the lynchpin who brings all of these characters together – whether it’s the down on their luck Phillipa (Emma Fernell) or the neighbourhood wannabe-paparazzi and busybody played well by veteran performer Dot Smith. Barbara Wilshire’s Letty perhaps has the most significant amount of time on stage and follows Lunney’s direction well – to maintain the pacing of the piece but also feel entirely authentic and in complete control of the situations.
Having equally as jolly a time are Karen Drury, Lucy Evans and Tom Gibbons, the latter pair taking the roles of Letty’s visiting niece and nephew, Drury turning in a delightfully endearing performanceas sympathetic house guest Bunny, a don on her luck woman who may hold more cards than many give her credit. The trio bring a necessary jolt of energy, equally as effective in delivery as they are for dropping bombshells of secrets, tying the story threads together without surrendering too much of the mystery.
As truth be told, A Murder Is Announced has never been Christie’s masterpiece, leaning somewhat into even more contrite expectations than others of her ilk. But then again, if you invented them, are they truly tropes…? Practised to an art, A Murder is Announced hits the notes it sets out to do – with no discernible interest in ruffling feathers, Middle Ground Theatre Company puts out a popular piece, and a decently performed one which captures enough imagination to keep the audience guessing but may not have the longevity of others in the murder mystery catalogue.
” Our Favourite Subject; Murder”
A Murder is Announced runs at the King’s Theatre until May 7th.
Tickets for which can be obtained here.