to a “classic” Agatha Christie whodunnit after a full day’s binging on the
latest series of the BBC’s
even if you’re already familiar with the solution, there’s still much to enjoy as you see Christie expertly and subtly put her puzzle box together before it’s pulled apart by her central detective character.
It still works, of course; Christie’s talent as an author wasn't so much in her characterisations, dialogue or descriptive style – which, quite naturally, reflect the times in which she was writing – but her timeless ability to create puzzles grounded in an emotional reality which ensures they’re never complicated just for the sake of it. This means that, even if you’re already familiar with the solution, there’s still much to enjoy as you see Christie expertly and subtly put her puzzle box together before it’s pulled apart by her central detective character.
In the case of A Murder Is Announced, Christie nominally assigns that role to her mild-mannered septuagenarian sleuth Miss Joan Marple. Yet, while this stage adaptation by Leslie Darbon (itself nearing its 40th birthday) significantly beefs up Miss Marple’s involvement in the plot – indeed, she’s gifted the final portentous moments in each scene during the first half – most of the on-stage detective work is shouldered by Tom Butcher (a former regular in The Bill), who appears to be transmitting Jim Broadbent as the typical no-nonsense Inspector Craddock.
Now it’s fair to say that Miss Marple – except when reimagined into Margaret Rutherford – was never meant to be a domineering presence, but it’s still somewhat strange that in a production that’s deliberately labeled “A Miss Marple Mystery”, the least memorable link in an otherwise reliable ensemble is Judy Cornwell.
While certainly not without stage presence, Cornwell frankly gives us few signs of Miss Marple’s sharp-witted and acutely lively mind; and, while she does flower briefly when delivering a few well-placed punchlines, those are too few and far between to balance things out. In any case, she’s also up against Sarah Thomas (as the somewhat absent-minded, live-in companion Dora “Bunny” Bunner) who proves far better at that sort of thing – as you might expect from a 25 years veteran of Last of the Summer Wine.
It’s when Cornwell is up against Diane Fletcher, as the no-nonsense lady of the murder house Letitia Blacklock, that she seems most lost; Fletcher, in contrast, proves to be a rock-steady core for the entire production, and without doubt is this touring production’s principal saving grace. Among a cast who generally have to do the best with what they're given – the younger male actors, in particular, don’t really have that much to go on – she’s the real star. A shame, actually, that she wasn’t given a chance to play Miss Marple herself. Now that would’ve been interesting…