In her long writing career Agatha Christie never seemed to run out of ideas for ingenious plot twists. I especially like the narrator who surprises us at the end of the book by revealing that he is himself the murderer (I won’t mention the title in case you haven’t read it).
A Murder Is Announced intrigues us from the very beginning with a fiendishly clever set-up: an advertisement in a village newspaper announces that a murder will soon take place, at a specified time and on a specified date. It even says where it’s going to happen. Immediately our imaginations, like those of the characters, start working overtime: who’s the intended victim, and given the advance warning, won’t it be possible to prevent the crime being committed?
‘No’ is the answer to the second question, which is the cue for legendary sleuth Miss Marple – whose niece lives in the village and who just happens to be staying with her – to get cracking on the case. The need for her services is underlined when another mysterious death follows.
Miss Marple has been played by several celebrated actresses over the years, and now it’s the turn of Judy Cornwell, who’s perhaps best known for her role as Hyacinth Bucket’s sister Daisy in Keeping Up Appearances. She’s maybe not onstage as much as you’d expect, but captures well Miss Marple’s distinctive mix of harmless, eccentric old lady and sharp-eyed, lethally astute detective.
Naturally there’s a motley collection of suspects, all excellently played by an experienced, professional cast, which includes several familiar television faces. Diane Fletcher (whose many memorable roles include Francis Urquhart’s wife in the original House Of Cards) is Letitia Blacklock, owner of the house where the murder takes place. She claims to be as puzzled by the announcement in the paper as everyone else, but does she know more than she’s letting on? And what about the Eastern European maid (a comic performance by Lydia Piechowiak) and the bearded left-wing intellectual (three reasons for the police to regard him with immediate suspicion)? He’s played by Dean Smith, once Philip Ryan in Waterloo Road and more recently one of Sarah Lancashire‘s sons in Last Tango In Halifax. Then there are Letitia’s two young cousins (who include Rachel Bright, EastEnders’ Poppy Meadow) and her childhood friend (Sarah Thomas, who was Glenda in Last Of The Summer Wine for 25 years). Trying to get to the bottom of it all is Inspector Craddock (Tom Butcher, who’s been a regular in The Bill and Doctors). He’s pretty canny, but his powers of deduction are of course no match for those of Miss Marple.
An added complication is that not all of the characters are who they claim to be, and when the truth is finally revealed there’s a little too much information to get your head around, though the identity of the murderer is not in doubt.
It all adds up to a splendid autumn evening’s entertainment: a polished, good-looking production of a complex mystery in the finest tradition of classic whodunnits.
**** You’ll be hooked from the start.
A Murder Is Announced continues at the Floral Pavilion until Saturday 31 October. For more information, click HERE.