Reviews York Published 27 February 2017

Review: Murder, Margaret and Me at York Theatre Royal

York Theatre Royal ⋄ 18 February - 4 March 2017

Don’t be put off by the doilies: Louise Jones reviews Philip Meeks’ play about Agatha Christie and Margaret Rutherford.

Louise Jones
Murder, Margaret and Me at the York Theatre Royal.

Murder, Margaret and Me at the York Theatre Royal.

The premise is all a bit ITV3 on a Sunday afternoon: Agatha Christie and Margaret Rutherford are brought together by George Pollock’s Miss Marple adaptations, forcing the two into an unlikely relationship complete with skeletons in closets akimbo. Don’t be put off by the doilies, though: Philip Meeks’ script unfurls to reveal a tale with ten times the heart of ITV3.

Brought together partly by Pollock, the women are also drawn to one another by the mysterious Spinster. Andrina Carroll offers the character an ethereal quality as she walks freely through scenes and sits in the director’s chair as Christie enters Rutherford’s stiflingly quaint cottage. She wears many hats: the Spinster is simultaneously narrator and author insert, a higher authority, a ghost. Her involvement allows for scenes to segue seamlessly, and for the plot to be brought forward to the juicier narrative beats. That said, we never feel rushed through the story. Instead, it feels that everything pointed out to us is important in its own small way, like being guided through a garden by your granny.

All performers in this three-hander are superb, but Nichola McAuliffe really stands out. Her Agatha Christie is every inch the razor-sharp, formidable and morbid force you’d expect, and then some. McAuliffe is a performer who breathes sympathy into Christie’s seemingly stiffened public persona. From the moment she greets Rutherford’s “family” we see the power of her portrayal without the development feeling out of character. She makes one of the greatest crime fiction writers of the 20th century simultaneously terrifying and as familiar as a relative.

Dawn Allsop’s design lets the fourth wall down just a smidge with lighting rigs visible and stage hands carting props about the stage part-way through a monologue. There are several layers of artifice at play: the filming of Murder She Said, the narrative of Christie and Rutherford’s relationship as dictated by The Spinster, the front Rutherford puts up as she rolls in on an unending supply of tea trolleys. By letting this aspect of the play come forward, we feel the benefit all the more of the genuine moments when the women forge a relationship.

For all the revelations, this is the key aspect of Murder, Margaret and Me which separates it from its biopic contemporaries and fellow Christie adaptations. There isn’t the gloss of BBC’s Christmas offerings, or the well-timed ad break shock blows dealt out in Poirot. We’re watching something grow from the removal of both women’s defences. Their flaws are laid bare, but so is their camaraderie.

Act two’s opener is a perfect example of how a story like this can be dramatic but oh-so-fun. Christie and Rutherford pass on their relationship advice. From Susie Blake’s Rutherford bumbling through the stage curtain to McAuliffe’s Christie perched in the box, the dynamic is drawn but never at the detriment of either party. They’re an unlikely friendship, but everybody loves an odd couple. Once the ground work is in place and some superb comic set pieces have been played out, the twists that follow don’t feel exploitative or in the drama for drama’s sake. It’s for the sake of their bond, something which by now feels every bit as real as being sat with an old friend over cake and stolen jam.

Murder, Margaret and Me is on at the York Theatre Royal until 4th March 2017. Click here for more details. 

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Louise Jones is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Review: Murder, Margaret and Me at York Theatre Royal Show Info


Directed by Damian Cruden

Written by Philip Meeks

Cast includes Nichola McAuliffe, Susie Blake, Andrina Carroll

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