Murder, Margaret and Me

Salisbury Playhouse

Philip Meeks' play Murder, Margaret and Me, directed by Damian Cruden, at Salisbury Playhouse until February 24, is billed as a comedy thriller, but does not match the popular conception of that genre.

The theatrical devices it employs, in spooky sound effects, shadowy figures, a torch through a window, and a room covered with dust sheets, imply excitement ahead. But real-life dramas are uncovered by Agatha Christie's probing of the past.

Kate Brown plays the brilliant writer whose murder and mystery novels won worldwide fame in books, films and plays. This production imagines an encounter, and subsequent friendship, between Agatha and the actress Margaret Rutherford (played by Sarah Parks), whose starring roles included Christie's successful sleuth, Miss Jane Marple.

The cast is completed by Tina Gray as Spinster, whose cameo roles provide continuity.

There are the niceties one associates with Miss Marple mysteries – and Spinster's knitting is a practical expression of the past being unravelled relentlessly.

Agatha's and Margaret's personal histories, travels, encounters, experiences and lurking fears are explored. Agatha remarks: "Vulgarity is so insidious." However, it does not intrude into the reflections over afternoon tea at Claridge's, the pink bunny blancmange served by Margaret, or her strange little stuffed toys, including a rabbit and a teddy bear.

The set is changed efficiently by men in brown coats, to take the action from a cosy sitting room to a film studio and beyond. This adds some impetus to a play that could seem static, and the initial startling screams and flashes clearly imply revelations rather than action.

However, this drama is an intriguing foray into the lives of two famous women who made their mark on society through literature and acting. The production, in association with the Theatre Royal, York, runs until February 24.

by Stella Taylor