A Murder Is Announced by Cygnet Players

A murder is announced

When I started looking for guest bloggers I was thrilled when Laura Peatman came forward – someone with a lot fo experience reviewing and blogging about theatre! I am therefore thrilled that this review is Laura’s first review for Musical Theatre Musings. Over to Laura:

A Murder is Announced by Cygnet Players

St Barnabas Church, Southfields | 10 May 2018

Agatha Christie’s enduring popularity seems to have had an even greater boost in the last few years, with the BBC’s regular Christmastime adaptations, and Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express film, introducing a new generation of fans to her masterful storytelling.

Christie’s stories have always been ripe for stage adaptations – just look at The Mousetrap, still going 65 years on – and it’s a crowd-pleasing choice for the Cygnet Players, who deliver this Miss Marple classic with charm.

For those familiar with the Christie formula, A Murder is Announced is something of a departure: our drama begins not with a murder or even the discovery of a corpse, but with the forewarning of a murder by way of an advert in the local paper. As the villagers gather, intrigued by the prospect, the death of an intruder prompts secrets to unravel and the murderer to take desperate action.

This has all the hallmarks of your classic murder mystery: false identities, suspicious coincidences and snide accusations flying back and forth over sherry in the drawing room. It would be all too easy to mock these clichés that we’ve become so accustomed to, but this adaptation by Leslie Darbon adds light and knowing humour without undermining the narrative.

Abbie Minnock in particular makes the most of her role’s rich comic potential as delightfully bad-tempered Hungarian maid Mitzi. There is strong support from Alison Walters as the unfortunate Bunny and Jake Wells as the naïve Edmund, while Ian Ward is a strong lead as Inspector Craddock. At times his portrayal feels a little too contemporary for the period piece, and perhaps he slightly overdoes the Cockney-policeman act given the 1950s village setting, but it’s a likeable portrayal. In some adaptations Christie’s policemen can suffer depictions as slow-witted blunderers, but Ward gives a balanced performance that make the audience warm to him, and sets up Marple and Craddock as an unlikely but effective partnership.

As our beloved knitting, crime-solving old lady Miss Marple, Carole Stewart does an impressive job of taking on such a well-loved, oft-recreated character. Her Marple is sharper, rejecting much of the eccentric old lady act; but once you’ve adjusted to this, it’s an effective way of driving the pace forward and guiding the audience through its various twists. Mention must also go to Gemma Ronte, who plays Letita Blacklock with poise and assurance.

There are moments that feel a little rushed and director Jeff Raggett could have made bolder strokes in framing the ‘big reveals’ and plot twists. With several secret identities and estranged relatives coming out of the woodwork, this would have helped with the clarity of the final few scenes which were a little muddled for audience members not familiar with the story. Greater variety in the soundtrack would also have helped to more light and shade, and greater peaks of troughs of emotion.

However, this charming production of A Murder is Announced captures the spirit of Christie’s work well and a strong cast – along with a lovely detailed set from Gavin Murphy and Will Prescott – pay testament to her undeniable legacy as one of Britain’s great authors.

by Laura Peatman

For more information about Cygnet Players and their upcoming shows check out their website. 

If you liked this review you might also like my review of Pippin, Top Hat and Sweeney Todd – all reviews of local amateur theatre shows.

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