‘A Murder Is Announced’ was enthralling.
“A murder is announced and will take place at Nash Theatre this weekend…friends, please accept this, the only intimation.”
There is arguably no greater murder mystery writer than Agatha Christie, who’s stories transcend both era and medium. And while ‘A Murder Is Announced’ might not spring to mind as an immediate Miss Marple classic, the gripping plot and performance had the audience at Nash Theatre intrigued from beginning to end.
Originally published as a novel in 1950 and since been adapted into TV, film, radio and theatre, the story has everything you could want from a murder mystery, filled with classic Christie clues, red herrings, and scandal. Nash Theatre’s production is an adaptation by Leslie Darbon along with director, Sharon White. Through tight direction and committed performers, Nash Theatre has done an excellent job at producing a compelling show with twists and turns that keeps you fixed to the edge of your seat.
The show’s action takes place in one room, Miss Blacklock’s house “Little Paddocks” in the quaint country village of Chipping Cleghorn. Here we discover the advertisement in the paper that a murder has been announced to take place in that house that very evening. Despite the action taking place in the one room, the show never felt like it was stagnant and the simple set design by White and Phil Carney appropriately enhanced the world of the play.
A challenge that comes with plays like Agatha Christie’s, where the backstory is rich and important to keep abreast of, is maintaining engagement through wordy expositions. At times the performers could have slowed down or made more emphasis when discussing new characters and key facts, but overall White’s direction enabled the audience to follow Christie’s twists and turns admirably; so much so, certain shock reveals elicited audible gasps from the audience.
Leading the cast as Letitia ‘Lettie’ Blacklock, Susie Williams was captivating. Williams was beautifully considered and nuanced in her performance and brought an element of solemnity to the character.
Lettie’s long-time friend, Dora ‘Bunny’ Bunner was played with a twinkle in her eye by Ellie Bickerdike. Despite being one of the more exaggerated characters, the sincerity she brought to her hammed-up, ditsy humour made her a hilarious and endearing scene stealer!
As the legend herself, Miss Marple, Linda Morgan brought a delicious audacity to the role. Morgan married the elements of the sweet older lady with the all-knowing determined investigator. Morgan’s Marple was cheeky and fearless in her pursuit of justice.
Brad Oliver played the classic, salt of the Earth copper, Inspector Craddock. Oliver was suitably commanding and surly, eager to solve the murder despite the involuntary resistance from the play’s quirky characters. At times, closer attention to the English accent could have been beneficial to align with the other characters but overall this detail did not detract from the performance.
As the Russian maid, Mitzi, Caitlin Cleary was exaggerated, bringing an extreme contrast to the other players. At times more variety to the facial expressions and physicality could have boosted the depth and comedic impact of the character but her absurd intensity was a welcome diversion from the more complex discussions driving the plot. Phillipa Dwyer and Brendan James as Julia and Patrick Simmons, had a natural chemistry and both exercised a strong and dynamic stage presence.
Rounding out the cast as Mrs Swettenham, Mr Swettenham, Phillipa Haymes and Rudi Shcerz, Silvano Siliato, Gareth Neill, Catherine Sturk and Lachlan Boyes respectively were committed in supporting the action and building the world of the play.
Lighting design by Phil Carney was simple and effective. For the few scene transitions in the show, the lights and curtain would both go down and era appropriate music would play which aligned with the old school, dramatic style of the show. At points throughout the play, the lighting flicked between warm and cool lights in the middle of scenes without reason which was slightly jarring but will undoubtedly be remedied as the season progresses.
A nice touch to the show was that Nash Theatre continued the immersive experience before and after the show ending (minus the murder). The programme, designed by John Stibbard was styled like the newspaper the murder was announced in, and slices of the Death By Chocolate cake was also on offer as part of the show’s opening night celebration.
Nash Theatre have done a commendable job of bringing this classic whodunnit to life. If you fancy exercising your detective skills or simply want to sit back and enjoy a classic murder mystery from one of the genre’s greatest writers, look no further than ‘A Murder Is Announced’.
A murder will continue to be announced at Nash Theatre until December 2. Tickets can be purchased on the Nash Theatre website.