Philip Meeks’s play about an against-odds friendship between the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie, and the actress who performed Miss Marple’s first appearance on-screen, Margaret Rutherford, is a warm delight. With mystery, humour and knowing smiles, Murder, Margaret and Me succeeds as a homage to two great women.
Nichola McAuliffe is a scathing and shrewd joy as Agatha Christie. Susie Blake plays the eccentric Rutherford, switching between the childish ‘Peggy’ persona and the overblown public actress. Andrina Carroll’s character, The Spinster, represents Miss Marple herself, acting as a myth-like mediator between Rutherford and Christie. The trio act out an Allan Bennet-esque bickering and self-reflective thought process with The Spinster often representing Christie and Rutherford’s conscience and inner-thinking. The three actresses are marvellous together, a credit to Damian Cruden’s directorship.
The story ambles along doggedly with much to smile about. Christie, at first dismissive of Rutherford, becomes intrigued as to a hidden secret behind the glamorous façade of the renowned actress. As initial hostility leads to intrigue, the back-and-forth relationship between the two historic figures plays up to a classic deduction and reveal. The themes of death, and the consequences of life are subtle backdrops to the light interactions which make up the play.
The set is simplistic genius. It starts as a stripped-back canvas and builds as the friendship between Christie and Rutherford develops. By shifting little parts of furniture during the performance, Designer Dawn Allsop and Set Construction by TopShow, York created a dynamic and versatile space. It has that homely, everyday nature which Miss Marple is so famed for.
Meeks must be applauded for the lavishly literate script. Christie’s smiling aside to the audience that she will enjoy ‘killing off’ an irritating party guest as a victim in her next novel still makes me chuckle. The second act unexpectedly starts with a comedically exquisite duelling conversation between Christie and Rutherford about men which had the theatre roaring with laughter. The sharp craftsmanship made the performance engaging throughout.
The play’s quick-wit also shone through. Highlights include: Christie comparing her branding ‘Agatha Christie Ltd.’ to her limited artistic freedom, and the ironic dismissal of future Marple actress, Joan Hickson, as ‘going nowhere’.
The shifts of gear between emotional peaks and laughs were a little clunky. The abstract opening scene and the pre-epilogue ending particularly came across jarringly. The climax of the story is heartening, but it seems to be attempting too much. To me, it felt like a tightrope-balance between a satirical ‘whodunnit’, matter-of-fact finish and a dramatic, emotional tear-jerker. The dismissive characteristics of the two women got a little tiresome with the wrap-up final scene, which was disappointing as it didn’t seem to reflect the thoughtful journey they had been through together.
Verdict – 3.5/5 – Grand
Sharp-witted humour, stinted drama but a joy to watch with great writing and a fantastic cast.
Murder, Margaret and Me at York Theatre Royale 18 Feb – 4 March – click here for more information.