Murder, Margaret and Me
at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley, Kent
‘So much theatrical experience they make it look easy.’
A lady sat down next to me and grinned. She was excited, waving her complimentary ticket at me. It transpired that she is a regular visitor to the Churchill Theatre - one of the Friends of the theatre - and, due to a clever PR move, she got a free ticket offered to her because her name is Margaret. Brilliant!
I explained that my ticket was free, too… because I was a murderer. She glanced at me, then laughed. We chatted over the 1960s pop music that was playing in the auditorium - each song bringing back memories of more innocent times.
[Lin Blakley and Gilly Tompkins]
Murder, Margaret and Me - a new play by Philip Meeks - is set in that decade. Agatha Christie is angry that Miss Marple has become ‘a brand’. Moreover, films are to be made and they have cast Margaret Rutherford in the part. Agatha is not amused.
The first few meetings do not go well, but the frosty relationship begins to thaw, especially as soon as Agatha realises that Margaret has a secret which she is determined to dig into until the mystery is solved.
[Sarah Parks and Gilly Tompkins]
Agatha is played by Lin Blakley, strutting around with an arrogance far greater than her diminutive stature. Sarah Parks play Margaret - a full-on performance littered with classic Rutherford mannerisms. A joy to behold. The triumvirate is completed with the presence of Gilly Tompkins as The Spinster - a fictitious presence, sometimes Marple, sometimes a make-up artist, but always a clever device to guarantee the scenes flow.
Directed by Damian Cruden, the piece is visually large in scale and wonderfully designed by Dawn Allsopp. The three ladies hold court magnificently, even though the script is heavy and slow - lacking Christie’s own pace. Billed as a thrilling comedy, the play does not quite fulfil its promise in tension nor laughter. Instead, it is more a dramatic exploration of the real-life friendship that the two ladies shared. It struggles a little towards the end of Act One. After the interval, there is a fresh crispness to the action and the mystery begins to resolve.
It is a strange play - sometimes a biographical show, with speeches directly to the audience - sometimes the action is akin to a normal drama - sometimes the story is told through puppetry. This latter bit could be better.
[Sarah Parks, Lin Blakley and Gilly Tompkins]
At its height, Murder, Margaret and Me works when the three actresses hold the stage and simply banter their way through the story. They are a tour de force and joyous to watch - so much theatrical experience they make it look easy.
The show now tours the UK for a couple of months.
Photographer Craig Sugden
Writer Philip Meeks
Director Damian Cruden
Producers Tilted Wig, Malvern Theatres and Bromley Churchill
Designer Dawn Allsopp
Running Time 2 hours 10 (including an interval)
Twitter @tiltedwiguk, #murdermargaret&me
Tour dates: (contact individual box offices for ticket information)
30th September-5th October Theatre Royal, Windsor
8th-12th October Malvern Theatres
22nd-27th October Devonshire Park Theatre
28th-30th October New Wolsey, Ipswich
31st October-2nd November The Haymarket, Basingstoke
5th-10th November Kings Theatre, Portsmouth
11th-13th November Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds