Agatha Christie’s A Murder is Announced, New Theatre, Cardiff: review

There’s always a sense of occasion on a visit to the theatre. But when you’re watching a whodunnit – an Agatha Christie whodunnit, no less – then that sense of occasion is heightened. You’re about to witness a murder, for starters. And, from curtains-up, as the characters appear on stage one by one, you’re second guessing who the hapless victim about to meet their sorry fate might be.

When the murder’s done, of course, you’re now out to catch the killer; so you become part of the action as you examine each character carefully and search for clues in all they say and do.

Whisperings amongst the audience showed us we weren’t alone in debating who might be hiding secrets in this classic play, whether something or other was a clue or not – or if red herrings were taking us down several dead-ends.

The play is based on Agatha Christie’s novel – and follows a small band of residents living in Chipping Cleghorn who read an advert in the local paper, announcing that a murder will take place this Friday the 13th at Little Paddocks, the home of Letitia Blacklock.

Naturally, a group gathers at the house at the appointed time…the lights go out and shots are fired in the darkness.

Cue Miss Marple, who arrives to delve into family secrets and solve the mystery of the killer. Sarah Thomas plays the classic role with understated calm and Barbara Wilshere as Letitia Blacklock is an elegant lead, knitting all the characters together. Karen Drury portrays forgetful and endearing Bunny brilliantly, clutching at her face and clothes, wringing her hands and bringing the stage to life while Tom Butcher as Inspector Craddock brings some clever wry humour to the stage. Supporting character Mitzi the maid is superbly played by Lydia Piechowiak – she lights up every scene she drops into with her clever one-liners. More of that please!

In parts the play can be quite wordy, with some monologues which attempt to explain the minutiae of past histories a little lengthy. But in general, the story flows well and keeps you guessing (with a few gasps as revelations are duly revealed) until the end.

Don’t expect special effects or dramatic scene changes either. All the play is set in the drawing room at Little Paddocks, with a somewhat melancholic but beautiful music score by Lynette Webster played between scenes.

This play relies on plot. And when The Queen of Crime is responsible for a plot, you know you’re in safe hands.

A Murder is Announced is on at The New Theatre, Cardiff until Saturday 15th February. for information, visit www.newthetrecardiff.co.uk

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