Saturday, 18 February 2023

REVIEW: The Mirror Crack’d at the Wycombe Swan Theatre

Agatha Christie’s detective creation Miss Marple has been adapted for film, TV, and stage in many incarnations from Margaret Rutherford (in the sixties), Joan Hickson (1984-1992), and Geraldine McEwan (2004-2008) and in this latest stage adaptation Susie Blake plays the role more in the style of Hickson and McEwan than Rutherford. Rachel Wagstaff’s adaptation of The Mirror Crack’d cleverly uses Marple’s rather static investigation model in this case with a sprained ankle as a springboard to create a stage adaption that explores different characters' recall of key moments around a murder through flashback re-enactments to accompany the witnesses’ interview with her and the Chief Inspector Craddock (Oliver Boot).

This then requires a fluid setting where characters appear while Marple reflects or chats to someone, so everything revolves around Adrian Linford’s single truck of a corridor between two see-through walls. It fails to have a sense of period, the fifties I think, but it allows for some creative moments where we see through the walls someone is listening in or for an imagined lineup of suspects. Not so clever was the poor masking of the stage left wing which telegraphed each entrance and even props being prepared for a scene or the lack of personal microphones which meant some voices were very quiet in the large Wycombe Swan auditorium. However, these are the compromises of a touring show with different size stages and although irritating did not detract from the overall quality of the production.

Wagstaff’s script provides a creative solution to the usual investigative process of successive interviews around the murder in a room full of people and we clearly see the different memories and can try and spot those deliberately misleading statements from those of poor recall. It makes a fascinating watch even when you half recall the story from the TV version of the story. It helps that it is a very good cast with each character distinctively and well-drawn so we can see and hear their background and attitudes and catch the hints of their hidden stories.

Susie Blake is the quietly spoken reflective Marple with a determined sharp intellect that can read people and piece together the evidence in a way so we can follow her deductions. Her sprained ankle may restrict her movements and leave her fairly static for much of the play, but she draws you in and convinces you that she is smarter than those around her. Boot is an overly aggressive and procedural Detective, but he too reveals moments of emotion and caring which are engaging. The list of suspects for the murder of Heather Leigh played by Jules Kelvin is long as she dies at the party in Gossington Hall.

At the centre of the story is Sophie Ward as the American actress Marina Gregg who has just acquired the hall and is shooting her latest film nearby. Is she the intended victim of the murderer who has accidentally killed the wrong woman? Her latest husband is also her film director Jason Rudd played by Joe McFadden who seems overly controlling and protective but admits to having access to the poison used. Then as it is a murder mystery there is her Italian Butler of 19 years, Giuseppe Renzo played by Lorenzo Martelli and her secretary Ella Zielinsky played by Sarah Lawrie. Both seem to be loyal and in love with Marina but know too many secrets.

Then we meet Dolly Bantry played by Veronica Roberts who is the former owner of the Hall and clearly regrets the sale and Cyril Leigh played by David Partridge who is the victim’s loving husband. Suspicions also fall on two people at the party who were not invited guests, rival American film star Lola Brewster played by Chrystine Simone who turned up uninvited and Mara Allen as Cherry Baker, Marple’s home help who happens to be moonlighting serving canapés at the party. They both seem anxious to speak to Marina. All the characters seem strangely drawn to Marina and could be potential killers.

Philip Franks’ direction is well-paced and uses the space well. The lighting design by Emma Chapman needs to cleverly distinguish between scenes that we are seeing live and those that are recalled and does so by using a line of small birdies in a false footlight to illuminate the memories giving them a slightly hazy ethereal feel and creating some dark spots. When we are in Marple’s home, the hall or the studio, the stage is flooded with light from above and brightly illuminated. The changes between setting are charmingly choreographed in the half-light. Max Pappenheim’s soundscape adds quietly to the atmosphere.

The result is a fresh feeling adaptation of the classic Christie story, cleverly staged and well-acted and bringing out some of the emotions hidden away behind the characters to produce a satisfying conclusion and make a very enjoyable evening.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls, Row P | Price: £24.50
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