A Murder Is Announced – Olympia Theatre – Review
by Pat Viale
26th – 31st of August
Cinema and television have portrayed Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple in many shapes and sizes over the last sixty years from the loud, bombastic Margaret Rutherford to the prim, lavender-scented Joan Hickson. In Middle Ground Theatre Company‘s production of “A Murder is Announced” running in the Olympia Theatre until Saturday 31st August she appears more as the irritating, nosy neighbour always turning up unannounced and testing the patience of her unwilling hostess to its very limits. Played by Sarah Thomas (of Last of the Summer Wine fame) she wears the required dowdy outfit and hides her incisive skills of deduction in polite and banal small talk.
Set in a typical small village in middle England, the title of the piece gives a clue to the action that is about to unfold. As Letitia Blacklock, owner of Little Paddocks, and her two young cousins, Julia and Patrick, are about to settle down to afternoon tea, her old school friend, Bunny, shocks them when she reads an announcement in the local newspaper that a murder will take place in their home the following day at 6.30 pm. After their initial confusion they decide that this must be a prank and, though uneasy, they settle down to enjoy their tea. The following day, gathered in the drawing room with inquisitive neighbours, Mrs Sweetman and her son, Edmund along with the ubiquitous Miss Marple, they watch the clock as it approaches the dreaded hour, reassuring each other that nothing will happen, when suddenly the lights go out, shots are fired and the play starts in earnest.
What follows is the usual smoke and mirrors we have come to expect from Agatha Christie, disguised identities, hidden relationships and a denouement with more twists and turns than Spaghetti Junction. Though Miss Marple links all the threads and is the one who finally confronts the killer, in this production, the detective, Inspector Craddock (played by a very convincing Tom Butcher) plays a more central role and is not portrayed as the plodding, limited policeman we often find in Christie’s work. Kazia Pelka is also impressive in her role as Letitia Blackman and gives a more nuanced performance than many of the other characters. Excellent, too, is the wittering, fragile Bunny (Jenny Funnell) and the icy Phillipa (Emma Fernell).
Much of the comedy of the piece centres around the explosive outbursts of the Middle European servant, Mitzi (in Christie’s world foreigners are often “funny” people!) Lydia Piechowiak’s performance, however, is so much larger than life that it slips into farce and, even in the third row, it was often difficult to make out exactly what was being said in the exaggerated ‘Allo ‘Allo accent.
With an impressive set and a talented cast, if you are looking for an undemanding, enjoyable night out you could do worse than go to see A Murder is Announced. The brain may not be taxed nor the emotions engaged but the warm reception it received from its first night’s audience shows that Agatha Christie still has a large band of followers and an undeniable power to entertain.