Newspaper advertising may be down these days, but without it, Agatha Christie's thriller as brought to life in Middle Ground Theatre Company's production couldn't exist. The small ad in question appears in the local rag that serves the sleepy English hamlet of Chipping Cleghorn, where a Friday night murder mystery is promised in Little Paddocks, the country pile occupied by sixty-something village matriarch, Letitia Blacklock.
With the house brim-full with former school chums, extended family members and an east European refugee servant, it's all a bit of a wheeze until the Swiss assassin himself comes a cropper. Enter Miss Marple, who, as played by Judy Cornwell, is happy to sit knitting in the background as she nudges Tom Butcher's Inspector Craddock towards solving what turns out to be a case of international intrigue.
Despite confining the action to one room rather than the more scenic locales of Christie's original 1950 novel, Leslie Darbon's stage adaptation never quite evokes the dog eat dog claustrophobia of an And Then There Were None or a Huis Clois (and Christie at her vicious best is as existentially profound as Jean-Paul Sartre, any old day). First seen in 1977, Darbon's version also ditches some of Christie's more explicit portrayals of human cruelty, while Michael Lunney's production plays things partially for laughs. The latter approach benefits Lydia Piechowiak's portrayal of servant Mitzi hugely.
But beyond such fun and games, there are some pretty serious things being said about identity, and how the damage of life during wartime and its subsequent fallout can make it easier for opportunists to try on a new one to hopefully make a killing.
The Herald, February 3rd 2016