When thinking of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, a prim, elderly spinster with a love of interfering immediately springs to mind. Far be it from me to criticise a crime fiction genius, but in some ways, Marple has always seemed to me a little one-dimensional – something that this production of The Mirror Crack’d goes some way towards putting right.
A Wales Millennium Centre and Wiltshire Creative co-production, and adapted by Rachel Wagstaff, The Mirror Crack’d opens with a sleeping Miss Marple, centre stage. As the audience enters the auditorium she restlessly dreams, while 1960s music immediately gives us a frame of reference for the action of the play. As the lights dim, the background music morphs into Miss Marple’s loud and colourful dream before changing again into a nightmare of lost love. This scene makes it quite clear that this will not be a cosy, drawing room adaptation!
After only one scene, in which we discover that Hollywood glamour has come to Marple’s quiet St Mary Mead in the form of movie star Marina Gregg (Suzanna Hamilton) and that she is now in danger from a murder plot, the rest of the play is a masterclass from Melly Still in directing an ensemble that is required to act scenes within scenes, to rewind and fast-forward and, at points, shadow act within the minimalist set (a brilliant collaboration between set designer Richard Kent and lighting designer Malcolm Rippeth). The cast deserve praise for their ability to go in an out of flashback sequences seamlessly, while allowing the audience to follow what is happening, despite the sometimes frantic pace.
Susie Blake’s Miss Marple is in direct contrast to this activity, confined to a chair with an injured ankle and unable to get right into the centre of the action, which I felt put forward some really interesting questions about the role of older women. At several points, Marple is unable to answer a ringing telephone which is placed far too far away from her. As she puzzles her way through to finding the murderer, she often comes up against these frailties of the body even as her mind is as sharp and deft as it ever was.
As I said, Susie Blake’s portrayal of Miss Marple reveals much more about her character than Christie’s books did, introducing the figure of a lover executed in World War 1 and revealing that she had helped care for Chief Inspector Dermot Craddock (Simon Shepherd) after the death of his mother. There is also a sadness surrounding the injured woman as she realises that her self-reliance is slipping away, and she is at risk of falling foul of that most modern of conditions – loneliness.
Despite the crux of the play being the murder of Heather Leigh (Katherine Manners) and the potential threat to Marina Gregg, some of the most memorable moments come not from that, but from the quieter, more introspective moments, such as Miss Marple’s conversation with her old friend, Dolly Bantry (Julia Hills) as she opens up about her fiancé, shot for cowardice in World War 1 and Dolly recounts her own regrets about motherhood and worries about her place in the world now her children are grown. This scene in particular is beautifully played by the two women.
Adapting any of Agatha Christie’s works is incredibly challenging, given their widespread popularity – having read the original novel and seen the 1980 feature film I knew ‘whodunit’ – but this production approaches the task with gusto, and is able to wring every ounce of suspense out of the material, and also inject some genuine moments of comedy too.
Running in Salisbury until 9th March, and continuing on tour to Dublin, Cambridge and Cardiff, this excellent production is thoroughly deserving of a wide audience.
Reviewed by Stacey Woods
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