Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

A mysterious time to die

ast in rehearsal

A dead interesting bit of rehearsals as the cast gather round the timely corpse Rehearal Pictures: Roy Palmer of Digital Images

A Murder is Announced

Hall Green Little Theatre


AGATHA Christie’s 1950 novel, adapted for the stage by Leslie Darbon, starts with the most unlikely of advertisements in the Chipping Cleghorn weekly Gazette.

“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.”

Now, apart from the fact that even the Gazette office tea boy would have spotted that as a story long before it appeared in print and the local constabulary might well have been informed and taken more than a passing interest, such an advertisement was bound to set tongues a wagging in the village and send a shiver of concern through the inhabitants of The Paddock.

And in true Christie style we have five diverse characters, each with a slightly dodgy background story, and, on past record, none who they say they are, all living at The Paddock. None are connected except through Letitia and don't really know each other; then. as usual, we have a foreigner thrown in to the mix, and foreigners in Christie novels, as we all know, can’t really be trusted . . . or can they? In this case the foreigner  is Mitzi, and an excellent performance from Lin Neale as the argumentative, rebellious, grumpy maid and chief, as she puts it, bucketwasher.

Mitzi, with her fractured English is Russian , , , possibly . . . with parents who were either shot by firing squad in Red Square or were sent to a labour camps, depending upon cantankerous Mitzi's mood at the time.

Owner of the house is no nonsense Letitia Blacklock, played with lady of the house Patrik, Pulia and Phillipa in rehearsalefficiency by Louise Price. Then we have her guests all five of them. There is her oldest friend Bunny, Dora Bunner, who is starting to lose her marbles and now is only really visiting reality now and again in a wonderfully dotty performance from Amanda Grant.

Matt Ludlum as Patrick Simmons, Rachel Pickard as Julia Simmons and  Steph Osbourne as Phillipa Haymes read about the impending murder

Then there are Lititia’s second cousins, Julia and Patrick Simmons, played by Rachael Pickard and Matt Ludlam, who seem to be at constant war with each other. Julia, who works in a pharmacy (surely a clue there)  appears humourless and dull as ditchwater while Matt is a rather care free, would be man about town. They seem alike as chalk and cheese – so is that another clue or merely a red herring?

Finally we have Phillipa, poor dear, played by Steph Osbourne, a happy-go-lucky horticulturalist with a young son who was left destitute and taken in by Letitia when her husband died.

Into their little world, and presumably very big house, come villagers Mrs Swettenham, a picture of bustling nosiness hidden behind struggling refinement from Ann Hickman, the sort of person who will use an feeble excuse to turn up and see what is going on. In her wake is son Edmund, a, so far, unsuccessful writer played with a sort of aloof arrogance by John Bourbonneux.

And, as this is after all a Miss Marple mystery, at the first hint of trouble the grey haired super sleuth appears complete with handbag and sensible shoes.

This is a most difficult role. Everyone has their own idea of Miss Marple from Margaret Rutherford and her collection of chins to the more demure John Hickson – even Gracie Fields has taken on the part – and Carol Ashby put her own very much matter of fact stamp upon the famous amateur detective.

Now we all know that come 6-30 something will happen, after all it was in the paper, and right on cue . . . we are treated to a virtuoso performance from Chris Checkley aThe Inspector and Miss MArple in rehearsals a corpse. He even had a couple of lines before he croaked Add to the fact the dead man is also foreign and there are more theories unleashed than characters to fill them

And of course a murder brings in the long arm of the law, or at least Jon Richardson as the slightly officious Inspector Craddock and Andrew Cooley as Sergent Mellors.

As the inspector and the less direct Miss Marple slowly peel away the layers we start to see all is not as it seems – remember this is Agatha Christie – and about the only thing you can take for granted is the seat you are in, and it is perhaps wise to check that just in case.


Inspector Craddock, Jon Richardson, interviews Miss Marple, Carol Asby

Directed by Christine Bland opening night had a lot to commend it, the tension was built nicely and the plot was revealed steadily in drips rather than great dollops so that you always had a chance to work out the murderer for yourself. Although with Christie she usually keeps some vital clue to the final revelation making that task doubly difficult.

The set gave us a full stage, authentic looking, period sitting room, two rooms made into one we are told, with its essential two doors crucial to the plot.

With opening night gone I would expect the production to move up a gear to inject a bit more pace particularly in the second act which showed, I suspect, that it had suffered less rehearsal time than the first.

The cast carry the story along nicely and give us a few, intentional, melodrama moments of humour and it was a nice touch to have 1940s and 1950s film thriller music racing along linking scene changes.

For mystery and Christie fans it is a well balanced example of the country house murder genre and one which will be a challenge to solve before Miss Marple reveals all. To give you a clue it is a member of the cast . . . possibly . . . To 24-05-14

Roger Clarke


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