REVIEW: The Mirror Crack’d

02
March
2019

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REVIEW: The Mirror Crack’d, Salisbury Playhouse

By Helena Gomm

Images: Helen Murray

The problem with Agatha Christie is that her books have been adapted so many times for film and television that it is very hard not to know whodunnit right from the start – and not knowing is really the point. So it was with some trepidation that I went to Rachel Wagstaff’s new adaptation of The Mirror Crack’d at Salisbury Playhouse.

However, I went with a friend who, miraculously, had never read the book, seen the film or watched either of the two TV adaptations.

As such people may be quite rare, but clearly do exist, I will attempt not to reveal too much about the plot – and certainly not whodunnit.

Suffice to say, like those responsible for all the previous adaptations, Rachel Wagstaff has taken some liberties with the characters and storyline, but all the essentials are there – and more besides.

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These days we seem to expect our sleuths to have some kind of back story. In Midsomer, the modernday equivalent of St Mary Mead, the detective’s wife and daughter are required to be involved on the fringesof every murder, presumably because it is felt that a family man will appear more ‘real’ to viewers.

However, this has led to them being somewhat ludicrously shoe-horned over the years into a series of unlikely hobbies, from painting to singing to historical re-enactment.

Miss Marple is rather different: there is very little in the Christie books about her background – she occasionally acquires the odd nephew when the plot requires one, but we are not told why she never married or what her life was like before she became the deceptively fluffy old dear with a mind as sharp as her knitting needles. Wagstaff has followed other adapters in attempting to fill in the gaps.

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The play opens with a stunning dream sequence in which Susie Blake as Miss Marple dozes in her chair, while the other actors play the people spinning around in her head.

Troubling her sleeping mind are contemporary issues, such as The Development, a council estate that has recently been built in the village, to the horror of its more genteel inhabitants, and which is populated, as the wonderful Dolly Bantry (Julia Hills) puts it, by ‘men in tight trousers and girls pushing prams without so much as a wedding ring between them’.

The old order is clearly changing. But there are darker concerns too. Society is becoming more violent and less caring, particularly where children are concerned.

And Richard Kent’s clever set, an enormous mottled wall with multiple levels behind, which clever lighting periodically renders semi-translucent, enables us to see the memories from a more distant past that haunt Miss Marple’s subconscious, including the execution for cowardice of a shell-shocked First World War soldier – the lost love of her life.

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Miss Marple has fallen and sprained her ankle, so she is confined to an armchair for much of the play. Her friend Dolly and Chief Inspector Craddock, whom she has known since he was a baby, bring her news of the murder of Heather Leigh at a drinks reception given by new arrivals to the village: movie star Marina Gregg and her husband.

The other characters appear to enter the room, either giving their testimony as witnesses or re-enacting the testimony of others. This is very cleverly done and beautifully choreographed, and it gives us the opportunity to see the same event multiple times, from different angles and from different perspectives.

It also reveals the fact that people’s memories of the same event will invariably differ – not just because memory can be unreliable for perfectly innocent reasons, but also because it can bedistorted by prejudice or deliberate intent.

The play concentrates on relationships as much as events, which seems right for what is perhaps Christie’s most poignant story. The friendship between Dolly Bantry and Jane Marple is touchingly portrayed, though I’m not sure about the scene where Miss Marple gets her friend to empty her commode. Is this supposed to be a calculated test of her friendship? An indication of their closeness? All it does for me is make me wonder when Miss Marple got the opportunity to fill it, positioned as she is in her living room, barely able to stand up and with people coming in and out unannounced all the time!

Some of the characters’ inability to recognise people, often relatives, that they last saw only a few years previously – one of them with a shock of red hair that surely would be an instant giveaway – also stretches the bounds of credibility.

Nevertheless, this is a tale well told. In contrast to many of Christie’s works, the final denouement does not take place with all the suspects rounded up into one room, long-winded details of the crime expounded,the perpetrator revealed and the police stepping in to make the arrest.

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By the time Miss Marple gives her explanation, it is almost irrelevant: things have moved on and there is a degree of ambivalence towards what has happened, how we feel about it and what might happen next.

Even if you do already know whodunnit, this is still a show that is well worth seeing, and it is on until March 9th.