Agatha Christie’s A Murder is Announced: A Miss Marple Mystery at Cheltenham Everyman, Monday, September 14-Saturday, September 19
15:24 16 September 2015
There are mysteries afoot at the Everyman. Why is a murder announced in the local paper? Why is Miss Marple’s knitting so poor? Does Katie Jarvis ever know what she’s talking about?
So here are two mysteries. The first concerns an eclectic group of friends, relations and hangers-on staying at Little Paddocks the house of Letitia Blacklock. When one of them – Dora Bunner (or Bunny, as she’s affectionately known) – opens the local Chipping Cleghorn Gazette on the morning of Friday, October 29, she is horrified. There, in the classifieds, is a notice:
A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 29th, at Little Paddocks, at 6:30 p.m. Friends accept this, the only intimation.
What ho! Having worked for local newspapers myself, I could, at this point, have leapt on stage and reassured them. Misprints I have personally witnessed include a huge headline of WHAT’S NO! on the events pages. And a lonely hearts ad that read, “Single man, furtive, seeks love.” “Do you not think,” I asked the classifieds girl who took the advert down on the phone, “that perhaps he said ‘30s’?” But she was adamant. It’s unclear as to what response he got.
The various characters on stage at the Cheltenham Everyman have different explanations. “It’s a joke! So, you see, there’s nothing to worry about at all!” one says, in much the same way you can imagine Labour HQ relaxedly chatting on hearing rumours that Jeremy Corbyn was to stand for leadership.
Not only that but, on reading the announcement, neighbours instantly come round at the appointed hour in much the same way that I wouldn’t.
It takes Miss Marple, who arrives on the scene dressed almost head-to-foot in brown, low-key but deadly (in a nice-old-lady-around-whom-murderers-seem-to-coalesce-sort-of-way) to shake them into some kind of action, which mostly involves pouring small sherries. Again, were Miss Marple to appear anywhere near me, you wouldn’t see me for dust, but fictional characters seem slow on the uptake about this.
If there is to be a murder, she points out, there has to be a victim. “The question I would be asking is ‘Who?’”
This sort of deduction floors the characters who obviously weren’t expecting this to be a two-way sort of murder.
Oh – and the second mystery is this. Why did I so enjoy this production when other audience members seemed to be intimating that watching someone make sandwiches would be marginally more entertaining? Philistines.
The actual murder(s) – and, for once, the stage is not littered with bodies; something I’ve always felt a waste when you’re paying actors for the whole production – take(s) place quite early on. The question then involves a (quite convoluted; maybe that’s the sandwich aspect) series of complexities about who inherits what in a will written by people we never see (one of whom is dead; the other almost-so); but it appears that this could be the key. Concentrate.
But you see I love this kind of thing. I hang on to every word – every prop – to see if I can spot the murderer. One of the highlights of my life was guessing correctly at a New Year murder mystery evening in front of impressed people from church.
The questions/red herrings here include: Why is a door permanently locked? Why is Bunny so forgetful? Would Edmund, a left-wing intellectual, have actually voted for Jeremy Corbyn?
And I do actually guess the murderer! Though that’s because I suspect most of the characters most of the time.
So. This is not a play of frantic action; it’s not one of deep intellect or carefully-drawn characters. But it’s fun, and pretty much each of the cast rose to the occasion with gusto. I thought Diane Fletcher as Letitia and Sarah Thomas as Bunny were perfect. Lydia Piechowiak as Mitzi the maid, who favoured foie gras over cheese sandwiches (as in ‘preference’, not a mix; I’m giving you a choice here) was hilarious. Judy Cornwell as Miss Marple? Not quite made up my mind. She grew on me, tbh. I was expecting someone a bit more bustling and commanding but, in point of fact, a dowdy old lady making astute comments people fail to take seriously enough is probably pretty on point. The least convincing aspect of the whole production was her knitting.
If you like a good Agatha, I think you’ll enjoy this entertaining production. It is a small sherry kind of evening; but you do get at least one shot.
• The Everyman Theatre is at Regent Street, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL50 1HQ, box office 01242 572573; www.everymantheatre.org.uk