A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED
A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED - a Miss Marple Mystery, Sydney Theatre, 27 September-27 October; Comedy Theatre, Melbourne, 30 October-4 December 2013. Photos by James Morgan: above - Judi Farr and Robert Grubb.
There is a splendid tradition of cold-blooded murder in the otherwise genteel countryside of the south of England. Think only of the Midsomers - Abbas, Barrow, Barton, Chettham, Deverell, Florey, Herne, Holm, Langley, Magna, Malham, Market, in-the-Marsh, Mere, Morchard, Morton, Mow, Newton, Parva and Pastures. Nevertheless, regular homicide was happening in the Home Counties long before Inspector Barnaby arrived on the scene: Agatha Christie's beloved busybody Miss Marple was busy investigating violent deaths many decades before.
Dame Agatha's A Murder Is Announced takes place in the village of Chipping Cleghorn and the original book was first published in 1950. That immediately post-WW2 date probably accounts for the oddly Teutonic-sounding name of the first murder victim and failed robber, Rudi Scherz and the mysterious, unseen Goedlers - from whom Letiticia Blacklock will apparently inherit a fortune (if she survives the two and a bit hours of the play).
The setting of the early 1950s also lends itself to delicious frocks, cardies, suits and jumpers and some very firmly-permed hair-dos (Suzy Strout); and a decorously comfortable drawing room for Letiticia's house, Little Paddocks (design Linda Bewick, lighting Matt Cox). The plot is convoluted and knowing anything about it before the denouement must be strenuously avoided. Suffice to say that there are many red herrings and blind alleys to explore and if you guess WhoDunIt before all is revealed, you're obviously a Christie-phile.
The Australian cast, directed by Darren Yap, is excellent: Judi Farr is perfect as Miss Marple, Robert Grubb is a nicely craggy Inspector Craddock. For colour and movement there's Carmen Duncan's daffy and nervous Mrs Swettenham and James Beck as her wannabe writer son Edmund. Decorative young things Libby Munro, Nathaniel Middleton and Elizabeth Sebben are delightfully dubious but the plum roles belong to Deirdre Rubinstein as Letiticia's possibly demented companion Bunny and Letiticia herself, Debra Lawrance.
As well as murder, scene-stealing takes place and it's committed by the divinely hilarious Victoria Haralabidou as Mitzi, Letiticia's ungracious cook general and parlour maid.
Apparently the company had just three weeks to rehearse and get this wordy and often comical play on the road and on opening night it showed. A rather clunky first act finally gives way to a much snappier and shorter second act (and revelations, of course) and it will clearly improve as the run continues. The audience were in the main extremely entertained - those who love Agatha Christie will love the show anyway - and it's novel to see such a deliberately old-fashioned play so lovingly produced.