Murder, Margaret & Me, The Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich. January 2017.
I hadn't planned on a midweek excursion to the theatre this week but the arrival of an email while Mr Norfolkbookworm and I were sitting in a local pub advertising this caught our attention. Well to be more accurate it caught Mr N's eye - he is a great fan of Margaret Rutherford's work and she is also 'his' Miss Marple.
It isn't hard to persuade me in to a theatre outing and while I'm not a huge Agatha Christie fan the premise of the play sounded intriguing:
Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie didn't want Margaret Rutherford to bring her fabled spinster to life. And Margaret Rutherford was mortified at the prospects of sullying her reputation with something as sordid as murder...
This is the story of the real reason why the acting legend and "the funniest woman alive" didn't want to take on the role that made her celebrated across the world. Margaret and Agatha form an unlikely friendship filled with high tea, brandy snaps and gossip. Meanwhile Agatha turns detective herself and she's on a mission. She's determined to unearth Rutherford's tragic and shocking secret.I'm not going to talk much more about the plot, you either know the secret or you don't (Mr N did, I didn't) and the way the story unfolds is a delight if the story is new to you. Equally if you have a Norfolk Library card you can borrow the biography about Rutherford that this play draws heavily on.
This was an amateur production from the Norwich Player and while it was a little creaky in just a couple of places I was enchanted from the start to the end and more importantly this three-hander convinced me utterly that I was watching Agatha Christie and Margaret Rutherford explain their friendship with the spectral interfering of Miss Marple herself.
Miss Marple is the Me of the title and in a wonderful twist she was portrayed as 'my' Miss Marple - Joan Hickson! In a way she was the weakest character as she struggled with her lines the most but being a sherry drinking, interfering old lady this could be explained away as being in character.
The tow people sitting behind us commented on something I noted - just how much scenery kept being carried on and off stage. This is one of the things that can really bug me (it was something I commented on when I saw The Wipers Times last year) but when Mr N and I discussed this afterwards he suggested that it was another way of showing the utterly cluttered way in which Rutherford lived and so was a conscious staging choice.
I'm not 100% convinced but this niggle certainly didn't ruin my night out and for an impromptu night out on a very cold night I came away feeling I'd seen a very competent drama which was performed with poignancy, humour and great love for the characters.