A Murder is Announced – Review – York Theatre Royal
A Murder is Announced – Review
York Theatre Royal, October 2017
by Roger Crow
If you opened your local paper and found an advert claiming a murder would take place at your house at 6.30 that Friday evening, what would you do?
Some would claim it was a joke and watch Look North. Others would be terrified and flee. That’s the hook for one of Agatha Christie’s best loved tales, A Murder is Announced, which has been lovingly adapted by Leslie Darbon and director Michael Lynne at York Theatre Royal.
It’s set in that fantasyland Christie world where everyone is either filthy rich and looks like a refugee from a Jeeves and Wooster novel, or impoverished and hiding a dark secret.
It’s October 1950 in Chipping Cleghorn, and gathered at Little Paddocks, the early Victorian home of Letitia Blacklock (Janet Dibley), are a collection of friends and relatives, each wondering whether said homicide will take place. Of course it does, thanks to a blackout, gunshots and a mystery assailant.
It helps that I knew nothing of the story, unlike Kenneth Branagh’s pending version of Murder on the Orient Express, where I assume everyone knows the ending. (I’ll still watch it regardless, just in case the screenwriters have changed the finale).
Popping in and out before and after the killing is Miss Marple, ably played by Louise Jameson. I probably wasn’t the only one reflecting on her halcyon days in Dr Who 40-years ago, running around on spaceships wearing a chamois leather dress and wielding a knife. Here she’s on top form as Christie’s beloved spinster sleuth, trying to piece together the puzzle.
Earlier this year I enjoyed Murder, Margaret and Me, a glorious three-hander at the same venue which told a compelling tale of Christie and Margaret Rutherford, with a few prop changes unfolding as we watched. There was a fluidity to the drama which never got in the way. Here curtain drops do irritate a little. However, they are essential given the covert nature of some elements of the play, so I can understand the need for secrecy.
While the first half is understandably a little static as so many characters are introduced and the simple yet effective premise is executed, the second part flies by as Miss Marple and local detective Inspector Craddock (Tom Butcher) reach their conclusion.
Could the killer be Mitzi (Lydia Piechowiak), the comic relief maid? Bunny (Sarah Thomas), the aged friend of Letitia with the annoying speech patterns, or several other visitors with their own motives? Well you’ll have to find out yourself, but the acid test for all great dramas is: was I sad when that final curtain dropped?
In this case, a definite ’yes’, as it felt like I’d experienced a slice of theatre from 75 years ago. It’s sublime escapism with a great cast, especially Ms Jameson, Ms Dibley, and Dean Smith, who some might remember from Waterloo Road.
It was also a treat to hear every word, unlike many movies these days where I have to watch with subtitles due to mumbled dialogue.
A brief mention of the fine set. I had feared the slightest wobble would remind me of excellent spoof The Play That Goes Wrong, but the drawing rooms are a key character of the drama, and play such a crucial part, it was a relief to see the props behaved themselves.
You may have seen the TV versions or read the source novel, but if like me you’re a newcomer to Agatha’s tale, then this is a couple of hours of enjoyable and timely entertainment which should help ease those autumnal blues a treat.