To paraphrase Sir Walter Scott, ‘oh what a tangled web she weaves once she practices to deceive.’ It can only be Agatha Christie of course, whose practised deceptions have been thrilling audiences since 1920. On the evidence of Wales Millennium Centre and Wiltshire Creative’s production of Christie’s classic “The Mirror Crack’d,” adapted for the stage by Rachel Wagstaff, Christie will continue to reign as the undisputed queen of crime for some considerable time to come. For with its taut script, terrifically directed by Melly Still, “The Mirror Crack’d” delivers a charmer of a production set just and the Sixties begins to swing. One that marries old English folksiness to the faintest trace of contemporary subversion, all played out in a stunning set by Richard Kent that’s simply to die for. Or, as is sometimes the case, to die in.
In Wagstaff’s slightly revised adaptation, the well worn warning that you should never meet your heroes proves doubly dangerous. For not only might they disappoint, you could, as in the case of housewife Heather Leigh, end up dead as the result of a dodgy daiquiri at a meet and greet. Why anyone would want to kill Heather, who’s obsessed with legendary screen actress Marina Gregg, makes no sense. Unless Marina was the intended target, given that she’s staying in the village to shoot a movie, and that it was her poisoned daiquiri Helen was drinking at the time. Yet everyone’s either devoted or besotted with Marina, so who could possibly want to kill her? As Chief Inspector Craddock gets the investigation underway husbands and lovers, secrets and lies, forgotten children and even the butler all conspire to conceal or reveal precisely whodunnit. Murder soon follows murder, leaving the unassuming Miss Marple, finding her edge slightly dulled by being confined to a wheelchair, wading through plenty of twists and turns as shadows from the past, including her own, come looking for resolution.
In Wagstaff’s superb reimagining, Christie’s overt whodunnit smartly exposes some covert depths. If we’ve grown accustomed to unquestioningly accepting Miss Marple as the loveable aged spinster secretly smarter than anyone around her, Wagstaff slyly wonders why it is that the world never properly acknowledged her? From its dynamic opening to a heartfelt scene with best friend Dolly Bantry, a scene stealing Julia Hills, Miss Marple is a woman ageing and not merely an ageing icon. All of which lends Susie Blake’s sensitively portrayed Miss Marple a humane frailty and heartfelt vulnerability, along with the human tendency to get it wrong sometimes. Even is she’s ultimately right. She is Miss Marple after all, and smarter than everyone around her.
Throughout, Wagstaff ensures the restricting roles women are often confined to are subtly investigated. From mothers to spinsters, devoted secretary to doting carer, aspiring young actress to the pinnacle of male desire, wonderfully played by Suzanna Hamilton as the iconic idol Marina, women and the expectations placed upon them are always close to the surface. Issues such as self harm and PTSD, as well as the rare, impactive swear word, introduce some additional gentle subversions that rock the apple cart just enough to shake some relevant questions loose. But Wagstaff never purposely topples the cart over, ensuring “The Mirror Crack’d” is awash in plenty of old English village charm. So much so you might feel like knitting by the fireside with your slippers and scones.
If your home is your castle, Richard Kent’s towering walls become home, castle and film set superbly rolled into one. An unseen raised platform and sheltered staircase allow ghost like visions, like suspicions or rumours, to pass behind its walls, adding distraction and dimension to the central space. Exquisitely lit by Malcolm Rippeth, with amber and gold offsetting the castle cold, or ice blue glares flashing with menace. Composer and sound designer Jon Nicholls marries 60’s pop and Cool Jazz to create a time-lined, timeless score, which richly informs some beautifully executed transitions.
When it comes to web making, director Melly Still's dynamic staging delivers a choreographed weaving of past and present, of remembering and reliving, in a whirling dervish of interwoven scenes that are simply entrancing, wonderfully informed by Joseph Alford's exquisite movement sequences. All beautifully executed by cast members Colin R. Campbell, Joe Dixon, Katherine Manners, Katie Matsell, Davina Moon, Huw Parmenter, Gillian Saker and Simon Shepherd, who along with Hills, Hamilton and Blake, each turning in a delightfully engaging performance.
If Christie sometimes suffers accusations of being naff, her work has proven remarkably durable and popular, with movies and TV adaptations continuing to be made almost a century after she was first published. “The Mirror Crack’d” is one of her best loved, which Wagstaff and Still lovingly bring to the stage. An adaptation in which Miss Marple might well be a dotty superwoman, but, like Christie, she’s also something of a super woman way ahead of her time. It might slow a little in the final act having so many loose ends to tie up, but “The Mirror Crack’d” is a delightful treat, showing some hidden depths, and a wonderful evening's entertainment.
“The Mirror Crack’d” by Agatha Christie, adapted for the stage by Rachel Wagstaff and directed by Melly Still, presented by Wales Millennium Centre and Wiltshire Creative, runs at The Gaiety Theatre until March 16.
For more information, visit The Gaiety Theatre.