Review: A Murder is Announced, Church Hill Theatre

Surely the characters of Agatha Christie novels have learnt by now that the moment Miss Marple hoves into view, it’s time to get out of Dodge? ***

Friday, 16th March 2012, 12:00 pm

Not so for the residents of Little Paddocks in the rural idyll of Chipping Cleghorn. Instead, they decide to stay for early evening aperitifs and to find out what the ominous message printed in the local newspaper could possibly mean. For one visitor, unsurprisingly, it’s death.

Director John Somerville takes a rather traditional approach to presenting a Christie whodunit on stage. And with so much plot and so many red herrings to plant, it’s no wonder that he’s chosen this avenue. Yet the sheer amount of background that needs to be delivered by the actors holds up the momentum of the first three quarters of the play. Much of the time the actors are lined up in front of the audience delivering a reading of the script rather than finding the room to explore their characters, although Somerville’s spotlight on suspicious characters does much to engage the audience with the on-stage action.

The cast really need to take note from the Meryl Streep school of acting – do something with your hands.It’s difficult to genuinely believe in a character when all they do is loiter at the front of the stage looking uncomfortable. A piece of knitting or a book would go miles. There’s a reason someone always has a tennis racket on screen in Agatha Christie stories, with so much exposition to get through a swinging motion, while string rearranging adds visual interest to the scene. The fact that no-one knows their mid-20th century sherry and cake serving etiquette also irks.

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In spite of poor pacing, there are some lovely turns from the cast, notably the more mature performers. Sheila Somerville’s Mrs Swettenham has a fabulous range of concerned faces and handbag-hugging mannerisms. Graham Bell’s long suffering Inspector Craddock has just the right blend of dogged and world weary. While Anne Mackenzie’s Miss Marple is surprisingly flirtatious, especially with the good Inspector, she captures well the social qualities that make Marple appealing rather than annoying. Lynn Cameron’s hysterical housekeeper Mitzi makes for an excellent comic diversion, even if she does fail to take her own advice and get away from Chipping Cleghorn as fast as her feet will carry her.

Run ends tomorrow