By Tom Pymer
The performance of Castle Theatre Company’s A Murder Is Announced began before the audience even got in. Asking the audience to wear black tie, in what might pass for period dress of this Christie novel, set the scene brilliantly. This was a slightly strange but amusing start to what proved to be an otherwise unremarkable, yet still rather good, performance.
As a Christie, the cast and crew were already provided with a good plot and cast of characters to work round. This particular adaptation kept all the familiar aspects, twists and turns, with the usual super sleuth in the form of Miss Marple provided by Emily Skelton. The many struggles faced by the characters were shared by the audience as we were drawn into trying to work out whodunit.
If there was one star of the play, it was Sarah Cameron as the business-like Miss Laetitia Blacklock. Even when she was onstage on her own, Cameron held the scene perfectly. I was also fond of Menna Braithwaite and her sarcastic Julia, not to mention Alice Lassman who played the hysterical Mitzi with exactly the right degree of melodrama.
Most of the really good scenes took place when there were only two actors onstage. Quite often, these were the scenes with the most intensity. In particular, I enjoyed the scenes between Skelton’s Marple and Andrew Karamura as Inspector Craddock. Skelton often played Marple with a slight cheek towards the Inspector, being often sarcastic and slightly cheeky, an aspect of the character which is traditional, but which Skelton nonetheless managed to capture. Karamura was clearly exasperated and did it very well. The dynamic between Braithwaite and Patrick Simmonds, played by Ewan South, was also a good one with their continual sibling bickering. The most intense scene in the play was between Cameron and Lassman: the air was crackling.
However, there were some flaws. The play didn’t flow naturally, and there were several noticeable pauses whilst the actors waited for the next line. If you watched certain actors whilst the focus of the play was not on them, their faces either relaxed or froze in their next position. There were cases of over-acting, and it simply did not look natural.
The lighting and sound cues were often slightly late and were always preceded by a rather unpleasant buzzing noise. Regrettably, this seriously detracted from the performance and indeed seemed slightly amateurish sometimes.
The other major flaw in the performance was the extreme lack of energy in many of the scenes. Both of the announcements of death should have been majorly energising moments, but alas they both fell somewhat flat. The actors obviously had their favourite lines, which they delivered well, but sadly there were other lines which were delivered in a wooden and unconvincing manner. This was by no means the rule, however: most of the lines were delivered very well.
The final line of the play was frankly a let-down. I don’t wish to give too much away, but suffice to say it was a shame for a piece that was otherwise so well-written. It seemed to me more suited to the end of some cheap cartoon rather than a Christie story. But up until that line was spoke, the production was doing moderately well, and it would be cruel to try and scupper the entire performance on my objections to one line.
All things considered, A Murder Is Announced was a solid and satisfactory production. The actors have done a good job and should be pleased with what they have produced. It was not exceptional, but it was satisfactory.
‘A Murder Is Announced’ is showing Sunday 5th February at 20:00 in Castle Great Hall. Wear black tie.
Photograph: Rosie Dart