Sean Goedecke is a freelance writer trying to visit every cafe in Australia. If you enjoy his articles, it can't hurt to click the 'like' link at the bottom or subscribe.
Miss Marple takes to the stage
In the world of Agatha Christie, death is never very far away. A Murder is Announced opens with the reported death of the great financier Randall Goedler, and the impending death of his wife Belle (and subsequent inheritance) motivates most of the plot. When the first actual corpse appears on the carpet of the parlour, it's almost a relief. This is the strength of Christie's novels - setting the upper-class English politeness right alongside the darkest impulses of the human mind - and it's a strength that comes through very well in the all-Australian production of A Murder is Announced.
All the action takes place in the parlour of Little Paddocks house in the village of Chipping Cleghorn: a cosy room that feels very full when all eleven cast members are present. This pressure-cooker environment seems designed to bring the secrets and plots of each genteel English gentleman and lady (and one Eastern European maid) to the surface. From the beginning, when an advertisement is put in the local paper saying that a murder will be committed in Little Paddocks tomorrow evening, the tension only rises.
The very English Letitia Blacklock, owner of Little Paddocks and den mother of its inhabitants, is played with style by Debra Lawrance. She handles the various moods of an Agatha Christie novel beautifully, switching from dry humour to tragedy without any noticeable change of gears. Lawrance's Letitia Blacklock is kind and caring, but with hidden reserves of determination - and, like every other character, an inevitable hidden past.
If the first two scenes set up the network of relationships in and around Little Paddocks, the remaining four scenes are about watching those relationships shatter under pressure. That pressure comes from two sleuths: Inspector Craddock and Miss Marple. Inspector Craddock, played by Robert Grubb, is almost as much of a star as Miss Marple herself. Far from the plodding policemen of the Sherlock Holmes novels, Craddock is intelligent and manages to puzzle out much of the mystery on his own. Grubb does a good job playing a competent, uncomplicated detective, and when he throws his hands up in despair at the web of lies at Little Paddocks, the audience can sympathise.
What about the star of the show? Judi Farr's Miss Marple is strange even by Little Paddocks standards. The director Darren Yap writes that Miss Marple is "unshockable, non judgemental and never patronizing". Farr's Miss Marple, apart from being a bit of a busybody, is also quite odd. She wanders absent-mindedly from scene to scene, listening like a hawk but at the same time seeming to take nothing very seriously. Miss Marple "lives in the present", Yap explains, so perhaps it's no surprise that she stands out in a group of people so dominated by their pasts.
Victoria Haralabidou plays Mitzi the maid as a caricature of an excitable Russian, going into histrionics about her parents' execution in Red Square and never putting less than two cloves of garlic in anything she cooks. In a production this finely balanced, Mitzi feels a little overdone - but it's a small fault. Special mention must go to Carmen Duncan's Mrs Swettenham, who manages in very few lines to be the most obnoxious character on stage, bar none, and Deidre Rubenstein's wonderfully muddled Bunny.
A Murder is Announced is a classic whodunit, where every character must be suspected - except perhaps Miss Marple herself. It's impossible to review the ending properly without spoiling the surprise, but the revelation certainly didn't disappoint. Tickets are available for A Murder is Announced until December 4, at the Comedy Theatre. Go see it. You'll have a wonderful time during the intermission trying to guess the identity of the killer, and an even better time being proven wrong in the second act.