death head

The cast of a murder is announced, all alive and well . . . for now

A murder is announced

Grand, Wolverhampton

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WHEN a certain ad appears among the announcements of jumble sales and meetings in the Chipping Gleghorn Gazette it sets nerves . . . and lives on edge.

You see a murder is not usually advertised in the village weekly, nor would any self -respecting newspaper not be following it up as a story probably before it even went to press, but we will let that professional nicety pass as the scene is set for Agatha Christie’s 1950 thriller.

Set in a large country house, Little Paddocks, we are introduced to a sizeable cast of characters led by Lititia Blacklock, the owner, played with an air of upper middle class confidence and British stoicism in the face of adversity by Diane Fletcher.

Then there is her companion and old school friend Bunny, whose mind is not always in the same world as the rest of her, played with lovely vaguensss by Sarah Thomas.

Staying with them are Letitia’s cousins Patrick and Julia, played with a nice period air by Patrick Neyman and Rachel Bright, indeed the whole set and costumes in director Michael Lunney’s excellent design, places the scene as 1950 right down to the music on the radio . . . which has to warm up each time it is switched on.

Another resident, or in this case lodger, is Philippa, a war widow and gardener with a child at boarding school played with a sweet, innocent girl next door air by Alicia Ambrose-Bayly.

And then there is the obligatory mysterious foreigner – this was just after the Second World War remember and at the start of the Cold War when the fear of spies both real and imagined was a popular pastime.

In this case it is Mitzi, from somewhere in central Europe, possibly, whose parents were exiled or perhaps murdered depending upon her mood who is hired as Leititia’s cook. It is a part full of fractured English, laced with lashings of paranoia and hysteria and Lydia Piechowiak, who is of Polish descent incidentally, does a splendid job as the cantankerous, anti-authority cook who is always ready to leave at the drop of a hat . . . but set to stay before it hits the floor.

So what happens at the appointed hour, 6.30pm on Friday, October 29? Well mysterious foreigner No 2, Rudi Scherz, played by Will Huntingon, arrives – and seconds later departs as the ad avoids prosecution under the Trades Descriptions Act by serving up his body.

And that brings in the sleuthing skills of Miss Marple, played with matter of fact efficiency by Judy Cornwell, and Inspector Craddock, played by Tom Butcher.

Leslie Darbon’s 1977 stage adaptation concentrates more on the plot and unfolding stories than Miss Marple which brings the inspector to the fore, dressed immculately, as inspectors did in the 1950s, in three-piece suit. Butcher does a wonderful job as the no nonsense, humourless policeman keeping everyone on edge as he squeezes out information bit by bit with his sergeant played by Jog Maher hovering in the background.

And then there are the visitors, village busybody, Mrs Swettenham, played in a bustling way by Cara Chase and her son Edmund, an as yet unpublished writer. They can’t resist arriving for the murder and staying around for the investigation.

Sorting out whodunit from that lot is not easy, particularly as there are no real clues to be had and discussed in the bar at the interval, and even if there were half the characters turn out to be not who they say they are in the first place.

Then the story takes us from Chipping Cleghorn to Scotland, to Switzerland and the South of France so there is a lot to take in but that is the hallmark of Agatha Christie murder mysteries, she builds up a seemingly solid scenario and then proceeds to dismantle it bit by bit until the real story and the real murderer is revealed.

To be honest the plot is a little fanciful, package holidays have rather diminished the allure of the Riviera and no longer far away Switzerland as romantic and exotic locations where dodgy deeds abound - FIFA excepted of course - and the premise laid before us of middle class intrigue is rather like an old faded postcard from another time, but that perhaps is the charm of Agatha Christie, mysteries from another, more innocent age when logic, not CSI and science, solved crimes.

There is an authenticity about this Middle Ground production which keeps the interest and tension from start to finish making it a treat for both Agatha Christie and murder mystery fans. To 28-11-15

Roger Clarke

24-11-15 

Another witness to the murder - Second Review

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