IT was the outcome neither wanted. When Margaret Rutherford took on the challenge of playing Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple on the big screen, both women baulked at the prospect.
Eventually they overcame a mutual dislike and distrust to form an unlikely bond, and it’s this relationship which forms the subject of a new play, directed by acclaimed crime writer Stella Duffy and starring Festival regular Janet Prince.
Through an imagined series of meetings between the two protagonists, Murder, Marple and Me charts the growth of the improbable friendship and uncovers a true tale of murder and intrigue from Rutherford’s own past that rivals any of Christie’s stories.
It also marks a welcome return to the Fringe for writer Phillip Meeks, whose show about a fading panto dame, Twinkle Little Star, was one of 2006’s under-the-radar hits. And, as the playwright explains, his new effort, which comes to Edinburgh as part of the Gilded Balloon’s Fringe line-up, is the culmination of lifetime of coincidence and chance.
“As a child, I loved Margaret Rutherford and grew up watching her in the 70s. Whenever I was off school ill, there always seemed to be one of her films on TV.”
It took a 20-year wait, and a rather unusual setting, for the seed of the story to be planted, however. Waiting in an Indian takeaway, Meeks picked up a yellowing newspaper which carried a feature on the Oscar-winning actress and vowed to discover more.
Even then, it was another decade before he put pen to paper.
“I didn’t write a word until after Janet, Stella and I got together,” reveals the former Emmerdale scriptwriter. “I was clearing out the office when inspiration struck – literally. Margaret Rutherford’s biography fell off the shelf and hit me, and those ideas came flooding back.”
“I think it works much better when you capture a moment in a person’s life and use that to reflect their character rather than try and tell their entire story.”
When Duffy came on board to direct, it tied up all the loose ends. Not only had she once written the foreword to an anthology of Christie’s works, the acclaimed author had also starred as Meek’s mother in a play about his life. “She’s an utter powerhouse and, because of the history, the perfect fit, too.”
Murder, Marple and Me, Gilded Balloon Teviot Wee Room, 3.15pm, until August 26 (not 13-20), £5-£10.50, www.edfringe.com