Go Back For Murder – Review – Bradford Alhambra
By Mathew Gillings, July 2013
Whodunit? As humans, we seem to have a certain obsession with the unknown. We have an appetite for the alien, and continuously endeavour to learn more. Agatha Christie takes advantage of our nature as great pioneers, with an innate attitude to explore and learn. She forms a murder mystery that leaves the audience mind-boggled until its closing minutes. As someone with admiration for the likes of Conan Doyle, and more recent crime dramas on television, I have high hopes for Go Back For Murder. The writer is, of course, a household name. Anything attributed to the Queen of Crime is sure to impress.
Now in its eighth thrilling year, the Agatha Christie Theatre Company offers the 1960’s stage adaption of Christie’s 1942 novel, Five Little Pigs. Following a note professing her mother’s innocence, the play follows Carla Le Marchant (Sophie Ward) as she attempts to uncover what really happens on the day of her father’s death. Whilst her mother is accused of murder and dies in the cells, Le Marchant, along with her solicitor Justin Fogg (Ben Nealon), feverishly tries to prove her innocence and clear her name. It’s a simple case of accusing the wrong person – and the whole story attempts to find that hidden offender.
Anyone familiar with the story will realise that the character of Hercule Poirot is gone. Le Marchant and Fogg replace him. This appears to be quite a controversial change amongst fans. But it is simply one of the many risks when working with a stage adaption. The exact reason for this is unclear, but Sophie Ward suggests that “[Christie] considers him unplayable on stage”. In practice, the replacement duo work very well together.
“Flashbacks are cleverly done”
A great deal of interviewing takes place in act one. Unfortunately the effect is rather monotonous. Set in a 1968 office (and, briefly, living room), the characters have the task of setting up the background story for Act Two. Furniture is shuffled around on stage, and lighting is used creatively to bring out certain traits of characters. Miss Williams’ (Liza Goddard) house, for example, is dimly lit. It reproduces the charming atmosphere experienced in your great-grandparents’ smoke-filled living room. Le Marchant goes from one character to the next, interviewing them and drawing up a list of suspects, preparing for their new revelation.
Act Two is rather more flavoursome as we are constantly teleported back and forth to the time of the murder in 1948. The audience find themselves peering into a vintage Christie-esque country house. We then watch the shocking events unfold. The flashbacks are cleverly done. I think the play highlights some of the wider issues found in the criminal justice system. Reopening a cold case, for example, can be highly dangerous. Especially after twenty years have lapsed, as is the case with this story.
Ward is essentially onstage for the whole duration of the play. Credit must be given for her remarkable performance. She maintains a convincing Canadian accent throughout. Nealon also stands out to me as being particularly impressive. I especially enjoy the moment when he breaks down the fourth wall and speaks directly to the audience. He tells us exactly what is happening onstage.
“A wide spectrum of fashion”
Costuming follows stereotypical 1960’s fashion trends. Ward sports a colourful abstract dress, complete with a perky blonde bob on top. The gentlemen opt for formal suits. Goddard’s character remains rather more reserved in clothing choice, respective of her role as a quiet and respectful older woman. Whilst it is clear she has the potential for a temper, her anger is quickly diminished by a chirpier, “Biscuit?” much to the delight of the audience. She is the lovable governess, perceived as the rock of the cast. All ten characters provide a wide spectrum of fashion, fitting together well with both the era, and their individual tastes.
Go Back For Murder is an extremely clever stage show. It begins slowly and could possibly benefit from more movement in Act One. But it gains pace in Act Two where the audience are moved from one decade to the next. There’s a lot of talent in the cast list. I feel Ward and Nealon are the pair who truly manage to steal the show. So who did, in fact, murder Carla’s father? Your first guess might well be the answer. But you’ll just have to ‘Go Back for Murder’ to find out.
image: Idil Sukan