“A Murder is Announced”; WEST’s take on Agatha ‘C’ Reply

Review by Danny Gaisin
Trivia question: – what are the three most-published works of all time? The Bible (naturally); Shakespeare’s plays (of course); 3rd – Agatha Christie’s mysteries (surprise!). In spite of the superfluity of people having seen and thus know the answer to ‘who dunnit’, the lady’s plays still get staged before full houses and now it’s West End Studio Theatre’s take on ‘A Murder is Announced’ and another chance to see dear old Miss Marple inimitably solve a puzzle. Director Paul Groulx‘s interpretation explores the passably amicable dialogue between Marple and Craddock, her local police inspector. It’s two sharp minds at work.

     OOPS, somebody’s been killed and (almost) all the above are suspects

The plot deals with a published press release foretelling a homicide to take place at precisely 6:30pm at ‘Little Paddocks’ , the home of Letitia Blacklock. The death does occur, and right in the middle of a birthday party for Blacklock’s friend and companion. As with all of Christie’s plots, every suspect has an agenda and also harbours personal secrets that must be uncovered before the motive and rationale for the killings are exposed.
For some reason, the play’s artistic team have chosen a set that is a distraction to say the least. There are no walls, just the requisite double doors and counters, so that the audience can see the actors entries and exits constantly telegraphed. Either the intent was to be artistically avant garde; they ran out of capital; or the designer is past the ‘best-before’ date. That and some hammy acting make this effort not quite up to WEST’s usual standard.
The three main characters are Letitia herself, ably and realistically portrayed by Ilene Elkaim. She exhibits all the care and rationality for every choice and opinion she expounds. From the opening scene, audiences will recognize and identify with her. As the eponymous sleuth, Deb Dagenais never bestows any attitude of intellectual superiority or patronization; actually asking questions in a rather delightful subservient manner.

       Brown, Dagenais & Elkaim in a dramatic trialogue


In this adaptation, Inspector Craddock is the major character.
Michael Brown brings a soupçon of the BBC’s “D.S.I. Banks” or even ‘Chris Foyle’ (Foyle’s War) into his interpretation and even his moments of irritation with the suspects is tempered with a very British ‘stiff upper lip’. Both he and Dagenais are able to subtly display mutual respect rather than competitive enmity.
There are some strong support portrayals especially from Phillipa Haymes who never overplays her character. Her use of stance and subtle posturing is noticeable and very effective. The combative ‘Simmons’ siblings (niece/nephew duo) of Keely Krall & Scott Taylor will touch home with every fraternal rivalry the audience may have experienced. Valerie King’s role is minute but critical. She not only bears a resemblance to, but mimics the facial expressions of the late bit-actor Henry Daniell.
As for overacting,
Wendy Oughtred pushes the envelope. Surely the fist-to-forehead ‘flapper’ emoti was long passé by 1950! As for her event responses, more irritating than credible. Another case of hyperbole, Anastasia Saluk’s Russian maid – ‘Mitzi’ was ‘over-the-top’. Solzhenitsyn would be aghast at her Kulak-ish outbursts.
Even if you’ve seen and thus are familiar with the tale, it’s fun to see and enjoy again, especially the Craddock/Marple dialogues. ‘A Murder is Announced’ will be at the Oakville Centre for Performing Arts until Oct. 22
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