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The Mirror Crack’d

by on 22 February 2023

But On Reflection

The Mirror Crack’d

by Agatha Christie, adapted by Rachel Wagstaff

Original Theatre and JAS Theatricals at the Rose Theatre, Kingston until 25th February, then tour continues until 4th March

Review by Steve Mackrell

You probably know what you’re letting yourself into, when you decide to see a stage adaptation of an Agatha Christie mystery.  And it’s certainly not to see anything provocative or challenging, but safe in the knowledge that an iconic Christie whodunit will provide a safe evening of comfortable entertainment. 

Indeed, we are entering Agatha Christie Land, where time is seemingly suspended and reality abandoned.  Included in our expectation of a Christie package, would probably be a Manor House, somewhere in Middle England, a modest glass of sherry in late afternoon, some strange goings-on and a satisfying ending where justice prevails.  Throw in a murder victim, a bumbling detective, several suspects with various motives, and then the guessing game can begin.  Is it the husband, the butler, the maid, jealous colleagues or a host of other possibilities?

The Mirror Crack’d at the Rose Theatre, Kingston, is based on a 1962 “Miss Marple” mystery, The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side, the title coming from a line in Tennyson’s poem The  Lady of Shalott.  In the poem, a curse falls upon the heroine stranded in a tower, who must then continually weave images on her loom, and look only into her mirror and never directly at the outside world.   

This recently written stage adaptation by Rachel Wagstaff is currently touring regional theatres with a talented cast, including Susie Blake, Joe McFadden and Sophie Ward.  Rachel Wagstaff’s adaptation must be congratulated for a script that provides, in Miss Marple, a wonderful meaty role for the older actress.  It seems not many challenging female parts are written for the over 50’s – by which I mean parts portraying interesting, strong and independently minded female characters.  Having said that, Miss Marple has been interpreted by many an illustrious actress including, on film, Gracie Fields, Margaret Rutherford, Angela Lansbury, on radio, June Whitfield, and on TV, Joan Hickson, Geraldene McEwan and Julia McKenzie.  Here, Susie Blake seizes the part of the unlikely sleuth, and with great relish draws us into her quest to search for the truth.

Not to dwell on the plot, but basically Jane Marple is at home in St Mary Mead, convalescing from a fall, and hears from a friend, Heather Leigh, that the famous American star Marina Gregg has moved into the area with her latest husband, Jason Rudd, the film director.  Subsequently, at a cocktail party held by the Americans, Heather and Marina (rather coincidentally) discover they have met before.  Then … Heather becomes the first murder victim while talking to Marina, collapsing and dying from a poisoned drink.  We learn the poison was placed in a strawberry daiquiri, but (shock and awe) the drink was intended for Marina, who kindly gave the poisoned drink to Heather, after Heather had spilt her own drink.  Confused?  Enter Chief Inspector Dermot Craddock of Scotland Yard – need I go on?  

The story, which is relatively convoluted, unfolds quickly and is briskly directed by Philip Franks.  Oliver Boot’s detective provided an admirable foil for Susie Blake’s Miss Marple.  Perhaps a rather obvious connection, but we all know that our amateur sleuth, busily knitting from her armchair, will always keep one step ahead of the plodding detective as they look for clues, despite Marple teasing that “I’m a spinster not a detective.”

An enjoyable performance also from Veronica Roberts, as Miss Marple’s compatriot Dolly Bantry, in another well written part for an older actress.  She also provides the observations for the social changes of the 1960’s rural village communities, with dire warnings of the coming of supermarkets, and the rise of “angry young men.”  The two ladies enjoy some emotional and amusing scenes together, peppered with rueful comments, such as “it’s odd that sex makes babies.”

Sophie Ward plays the flamboyant Hollywood star, fresh we learn, from paying Cleopatra (shades of 1962 Elizabeth Taylor), and now in England to play the title role in a film of Catherine of Aragon.  Playing the part of such a prominent film star could easily provide an opportunity to overact by delivering a glitzy and stereotypical performance.  Instead, this was a restrained performance, both understated and sympathetic, especially when explaining some of the more powerful personal themes in the character’s life. 

What lifts this production out of the ordinary are the number of clever devices used with, for example, time not being continuous, but using frequent flashbacks, watched over by other characters.  The cast replay key scenes, taken from different viewpoints, and sometimes played in slow motion, such as the moment of the poisoning.  The actors also occasionally step outside the story, such as when the seven suspects line-up, as if somehow in an identity parade, providing nevertheless a useful signpost to help us understand a complex storyline and who exactly are the characters under suspicion. 

The design is excellent, an open set with a long conservatory type structure of glass and mirrors, which is periodically revolved by the actors as scenes change.  The mirrors used in the set clearly raises issues, since the stage is set high to avoid the mirrors showing reflections of the audience.  Because of the high stage, perhaps it would be best to avoid the front two rows. 

All in all, a pleasant enough evening, and an interesting interpretation of a well-known novel.  Indeed, while not provocative or challenging, the production provides safe, if slightly predictable, theatre – and why not?

Steve Mackrell, February 2023

Photography by Michael Wharley

  1. celia bard permalink

    Totally agree with the observations of reviewer. The ingenuity of the staging and direction lifted the production to another level, the success of which was reflected in the performances of the actors. Another pleasing aspect of the production was the suggestion of book stories to both Miss Marples and the Detective Inspector. A most enjoyable evening..

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