Based on the 1950 novel by the “Queen of Crime” herself, Agatha Christie, the title refers to the murder being announced ahead of time in a local newspaper in a small village, right down to the minute. Though it could be described as a “Miss Marple Story”, in truth the detective-work is split almost 50/50 between her and local police-officer Inspector Craddock.
It’s also worth mentioning this isn’t one of Christie’s fifteen stage adaptations of her own work, this one being written by Leslie Darbon. But being based on one of her novels, it does contain many of the genre staples which have, thanks largely to her, become associated with the genre. These include: a small village setting, a plodding police sergeant (here played by Jog Maher), a corpse on the floor (Luke Rhodri), the suspects being a circle of acquaintances such as family members (here played by Barbara Wilshere, Lucy Evans, and Will Huntington), friends (Karen Drury, Emma Fernell, Dot Smith and Tom Gibbons), servants (Lydia Piechowiak), an ending involving a detective (Sarah Thomas) who gathers the surviving suspects into one room to explain their deductions and reveal the guilty party, and death by poison. In fact, she got into writing crime fiction because of poison, and not the other way round. During WWI she worked in a hospital, where she eventually became an assistant in the dispensary, and it was only after being challenged by her elder sister Madge to write that she came to think of a detective story involving the poisons that surrounded her at work, which became her first book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
As such, this is a classic story in every sense of the word (thanks partly to the period-setting scenery and costumes, curtasy of Andy Martin, Jon Goodwin, Dan O’Neil, Lucy Goodwin, Emma Thompson, Michael Lunney, Jane Stuart Brown, Jennifer Helps, Andy Whiteoak and Bristol Costume Hire), and that is no bad thing. Tom Butcher as Inspector Craddock in particular leans into the English inspector archetype to great effect. Less Christie-an but even more of a delight we have Lydia Piechowiak as the hilariously forward servant Mitzi.
Really, the stage is a perfect place for this type of story, as Christie herself found. It lends itself so well to a single (tastefully done and decorated) set and small cast of characters. Though one does feel that the adaptation process might have found a way to relay some of the novel’s off-stage investigation in a more visual way than simply having characters give us the results, the adaptation is well-handled, right down to the curtain drops and a great gag with the body at the beginning of act II.
Well directed and designed by Michael Lunney, this production of A Murder Is Announced is classic Christie in both format and execution (and we don’t just mean the body). Lead by a solid ensemble cast which balances well humour, characterisation and deception, this is a good night’s entertainment, with an ending I suspect few will see coming!
Playing until Saturday 7th May, https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/a-murder-is-announced
Reviewer: Oliver Giggins
Reviewed: 3rd May 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★