Prepare to be intrigued…
By Kim Edwards
The queen of crime is being celebrated anew – Agatha Christie’s A Murder is Announced opened in Melbourne this week, and proved to be a deadly and delicious production of this mystery classic.
Leslie Darbon‘s 1977 stage adaptation of one of Christie’s best-crafted novels is excellent, as the charming rambling wander through English village life is sewn up into a taut and witty drawing-room drama. The script establishes memorable and appealing characters with brisk confidence, rolls out the action with energy, and moves swiftly through important exposition, all without losing the actual language and style of the original novel.
It is Darren Yap‘s vibrant intelligent direction here that also freshens up the tale for a modern audience. I admired the delicate balance created between the self-aware humour that poked affectionate fun at the murder mystery genre and the foibles of the characters, and the real suspense and intrigue that held the opening night audience enthralled. I call it The Mousetrap effect – hearing an entire theatre of patrons draw a breath in horrified and delighted unison when a particular dark secret or shocking revelation is revealed…
Overall. the casting is delightful: Judi Farr (with clear homage to the glorious Joan Hickson) plays Miss Marple with wry humour and real charm. Robert Grubb has some trouble reigning in the wonderful gusto he feels portraying the bluff and dramatic Inspector Craddock, but the slight histrionics play off well against the elegant, fluid and nuanced performance of Debra Lawrance as Letitia Blacklock. Libby Munro gives a spirited and beautifully stylish depiction of Julia, Deidre Rubenstein offers superb comic timing as the bumbling Dora, and both Carmen Duncan and James Beck perform with aplomb in the rather thankless roles of Mrs Swettenham and Edmund.
Both Nathaniel Middleton and Libby Munro struggled to keep caricature at bay and their accents intact on opening night, but will no doubt smooth into their roles, while Victoria Haralabidou was a spectacular scene-stealer in the difficult role of refugee housekeeper Mitzi. Agatha Christie’s cheerful racism is always hard to overcome, but neat scripting and Haralabidou’s hilarious and enchanting dedication to her character gave Mitzi an ascerbic wit and vivaciousness that let us laugh with her at the constrained British behaviours and appreciate her more naturalistic emotion and energy.
Starting from $95.00, tickets are pricy for this old favourite, but classic murder mystery is always beguiling and as a Christie devotee, I enjoyed this production as thoroughly as the initiates behind me who were ecstatic the plot twists took them completely by surprise!
A Murder is Announced is playing at the Comedy Theatre until December 4. Tickets are available through Ticketek and online here.