the most important part of any Agatha Christie play doesn’t happen on the
stage at all; it takes place in the rest of the theatre during the interval,
when there’s plenty of fun to be had eavesdropping on an audience’s theories
about the murder. Christie’s 1953 play,
Tony Flynn is noble and sufficiently intense as defence barrister Sir Wilfrid Robarts
Having relatively recently served on a jury (albeit not relating to a murder case), I’m well aware of the inherent theatre that builds up in a courtroom; and how that’s partly down to the rhythm of interest switching repeatedly from prosecution and defence lawyers to the gadfly-like witnesses who appear briefly on the stand to give their evidence and then are never seen again. Christie presents this legal process well enough, not least utilising the old legal trick of a barrister “withdrawing” a controversial question while clearly hoping that its implications will linger in the jurists’ minds. Director and designer Kenny Miller holds the overall action together well enough, building resolutely to the final judgement. Yet he seems less inclined to prevent his cast – especially those who have the essentially small roles – from making them as big as possible; in some cases, such as Darren Brownlie’s nerdish scientist Mr Clegg, playing them outright for laughs.
Of course, even though some of the cast double up in the minor roles (which has a relevance later on), it can work really well: Ann Louise Ross excels as both frosty Dr Wyatt and vindictive housekeeper Janet MacKenzie. Yet there are some queries about the staging, none-the-less, not least the slight confusion of having members of “the Dundee Rep Community” playing the jury at the rear while the witnesses look to the audience when giving their evidence. Also, having the barrister’s office set in front of the court – it’s drawn apart to either side when not required – is a tad ponderous as well as unsettling – what would happen if the mechanism broke?
Tony Flynn is noble and sufficiently intense as defence barrister Sir Wilfrid Robarts, and the production actually makes something of his misogynistic attitude to Vole’s German “wife” Romaine (a finely judged performance, as ever, from Irene Macdougall). Yet, arguably, Robarts has little more depth than some of the characters who are on stage for a few minutes; a failing, arguably, more of Christie’s writing than the efforts of the actor.
The play’s conclusion and its final revelations are both surprising and – arguably – too rushed, leaving little or no time to feel that justice has actually been done after all. Which is a shame; while an entertaining production, Miller seems more interested in presenting Christie’s criminal puzzle than trying to find any current relevance to the world today.