The European premiere of Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d was performed this week at Salisbury Playhouse. The team behind the new stage production have thrown all the pieces of the Queen of Crime’s murder mystery up in the air and created a stylish, modern, soul-searching thriller.
Wiltshire Creative and the Wales Millennium Centre invited Rachel Wagstaff to adapt the book, The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side. With the blessing of Agatha Christie’s grandson, Matthew Prichard, Wagstaff accepted the challenge.
Her script and the direction by Melly Still are refreshing and quite unlike the traditional Christie whodunnits we are used to. As we settle into our seats, Miss Marple is asleep in a wing-back armchair, alone on a stark empty stage in front of an imposing brown backdrop, a row of brown wooden chairs lined up behind her.
When the lights go up, the brown backdrop becomes translucent, flashing up tableaus of all the characters we are yet to meet. Then, 60s music starts blaring and there is dancing and teenage fighting around the still figure of Miss Marple. Times are changing, supermarkets have arrived, there is a housing development around the corner and a Hollywood actress is filming in the village. Miss Marple feels elderly and out of place until a local woman mysteriously dies at a gathering at the large house.
Susie Blake (Hilary Nicholson in TV sitcom Mrs Brown’s Boys) plays a marvellously quick-witted, though slightly infirm Miss Marple. A twisted ankle has made her an invalid, and hence physically slightly helpless, but she is mentally her usual sharp self.
Simon Shepherd is a determined, reliable Chief Inspector Craddock, despairing at his aunt, Miss Marple, as she interferes in his investigation. These two act as the pillars in the drama as the murder is played and replayed around them by the full cast from different perspectives.
For the first five minutes of the play, it is confusing as all the characters are on stage. When they are not re-enacting the scene of the crime, they freeze, or sit on the wooden chairs. But, after a while, you settle into this alternative way of relaying the story and it is intriguing seeing the murder retold by each character. Each memory provides a slightly different angle on the evening.
The re-enactments are superbly well-choreographed as the actors weave around each other, rewinding and forwarding time. Clever use of lighting highlights the characters you are watching while others fade into the darkness.
Julia Hills , perfectly plays the permanently-flustered Dolly Bantry, Miss Marple’s best friend. Suzanna Hamilton as Marina Gregg, the glamorous Hollywood star, dominates the stage with her poise and charisma.
Alongside the murder being solved, other themes are explored in the play, giving an added depth to the traditional Agatha Christies we are used to. In her adaptation, Rachel Wagstaff has ‘delved deeper into Miss Marple as a character’ exploring loneliness and old age. There is a touching scene between Miss Marple and Dolly, who discuss being a widow and Miss Marple’s childlessness. Elsewhere, the Hollywood actress talks of having ‘no friends,’ and women fighting in a modern world.
The Mirror Crack’d is a stylish, beautifully choreographed whodunnit.
Following this launch, the production travels to Dublin, Cambridge and Cardiff.
The Mirror Crack’d runs until March 9.
www.wiltshirecreative.co.uk or call 01722 320333.