‘A Murder is Announced’ was charming.
A night spent unravelling a classic Agatha Christie murder mystery is a night well spent. The iconic Miss Marple was brought to life in Act 1 Theatre’s production of ‘A Murder Is Announced’ – a sharp whodunnit with more red herrings than a fish farm, and a laundry list long of possible murderers ’whodunnit.
This production was filled with dedication, and in an age of “Thanos Demands Your Silence”, Director Chris Sargent politely asked those who already knew the secrets of the play to kindly “keep them to yourselves”. Sargent’s direction was thoughtful and concise, giving people enough space to move, but for the most part, keeping a tight rein on unnecessary pacing. This ensured the sharp script and capable cast did most of the heavy lifting.
The set design, also by Sargent, was the true hero of the production. From the moment the curtain opened the audience is audibly shocked at how opulent it was, and how accurate to the time. It looked as if it cost an absolute fortune to create, and enhanced the atmosphere of the play perfectly.
Quiet and unobtrusive but always politely questioning, it was sometimes easy to forget that Anne Wilson’s Miss Marple was sitting onstage. She watchfully faded into the background of scenes, sitting quietly for long stretches, but always ready with a sharp question and a thoughtful revelation. Wilson was the perfect Marple, and although the script takes away some of her “ah-ha” moments that are present in the novel, she gave us a perfectly shrewd and calculated sleuth that the audience could get behind.
Julie Bray’s Miss Blackrock had a commanding presence onstage, shepherding the household around and providing a comforting word of wisdom. Her advice was endearing to the audience. Bray expertly walked the line between convivial confidant and steely-backed combatant. Of particular note was her work with Miss Bunner, played with a vacant charm by Julie Snowden, which was a warm blend of exasperation and affection.
As siblings, and constant sparring partners Julia and Patrick (Lauren Flood and Brendan James respectively) spent much of the show sniping at one another, and everyone else. Their air of petulant entitlement was perfectly era-appropriate, and they simultaneously oozed the type of glamour that makes you want to be a part of their circle – even though it will make you a target of their wide remarks.
The constantly browbeating cook Mitzi, played by Beth Cream, was a delightful injection of energy into the necessarily stately progression of the play. With her constant over the top body language and shouty lines, Cream drove each scene forward every time she was onstage and gave a needed change of pace to the pleasantly mannered upper class of Chipping Cleghorn.
Similarly, Phillipa (Cerys Gandhi) brought sultry, adventurous energy to the stage that neatly changed the dynamic each time she was on. With a brighter red lipstick, flowing curls, and smartly flowing pantsuit, she injected some sassy one-liners into the mix that go a long way to liven up the dynamics of the script. Gandhi is right at home in this production and gave a scene-stealing turn as a young widow with a child.
Bemused Sir Arthur Swettenham (Ed Bone) brought some much-needed comedy to the stage, with his pots of honey and sneaking a seat before offered. Bone often had him seem as if he was just happy to be included in the madness, pleasantly sticking his nose into the business of his neighbours. Constantly accompanied by his relative Edmund Swettenham, played skillfully by Thomas Coade, a “writer” who is equal parts pleasant and smarmy.
As the keen-eyed and ever patient D.I. Craddock, John Sayles gave a dedicated turn. His smiling exasperation at Miss Marple’s constant interjections was thoroughly charming to watch, with an always measured response to her meddling. Sayles seems to revel in playing the too-knowledgeable, five steps ahead Inspector, playing out theory after theory, and quietly testing each of the suspects. Of particular note is his work with D.S. Mellors (Errol Barnett), and although the two barely exchange three words, they are so comfortable with one another in the space, you could believe they have been colleagues for years.
Special mention should go to the briefly seen but often mentioned Rudi Sherz played by Jon Quinn. It was a small role, mostly silhouetted in darkness, but these roles should be anything but thankless. Without them, a production like this simply wouldn’t and couldn’t have worked.
Act 1 Theatre has provided a gorgeous, heartfelt night out with ‘A Murder Is Announced’. The show was like taking a trip down to memory lane with old friends. If you’re a fan of Agatha Christie’s novels or have ever been curious to discover what all the fuss is about, this production is for you. Come in out of the cold, grab a warm drink, and enjoy trying to solve which piece of information is a red herring, and which is a clue.
‘A Murder is Announced’ performs until Saturday, 25 May 2019. For more information or to purchase tickets visit http://www.act1theatre.com.au.