Stage

Miss Marple and the case of the unnecessary tour

| |

Audiences loved the touring Mousetrap in 2012, even though I didn’t go to see it, and am possibly the only person in the English-speaking world to neither know nor care who-dunnit.  But isn’t it time the nosy spinster was pensioned off, from the live stage at least? This latest attempt to cash in on the doings of an old biddy who makes even John Barnaby look interesting did not impress, certainly not halfway through a six-month national tour, when the cast were bored out of their tree and showing it, and camping it up to relieve the tedium.
A Murder is Announced, promoted by some unscrupulous PR people using mathematics as implausible as the author’s own plots, is said to be Christie’s fiftieth novel, and was first adapted for the stage in 1977. Unlike The Mousetrap, it ran for only a year at the Vaudeville Theatre, and although it has never been a smash hit, it is occasionally seen on the touring circuit.
But after seeing this production, I have to ask myself why? The television industry has taken to Agatha Christie with enthusiasm, because the settings are delightful, with all those dear little cottages with thatched roofs, and an endless English summer. The plots are improbable enough, and insipid enough, to please the most conservative audiences, and can easily be condensed to a commercially-friendly sixty or ninety minutes. Geraldine McEwan and Julia McKenzie have both played Jane Marple as a deceptively sweet old biddy with a razor-sharp intellect, and the television versions have helped fill in many an empty evening, because there’s always the scenery to look at.
But is yet another Miss Marple on stage more than enough in the 21st century?  Haven’t we had enough slight plays dragged out to the point of tedium (this productions runs for more than two hours) to last us a lifetime? A single set; characters from stock casting; clumsy direction (why is the plate of canapés from the evening party still there the next morning? Why are some of the women wearing seamless stockings?); unflattering costumes and high-camp gestures: these elements just don’t cut it for today’s audiences. We (rightfully) demand complex characters with individual personalities, rather than a collection of caricatures, and some degree of credibility in the plotting. In Murder, the denouement is as unlikely and unsatisfactory as anything I’ve seen, and there are no clues to help any amateur sleuth in the audience.
This play is as dated as the production, and maybe promoters should realise that some genres need to be put to rest, and only brought out once they’ve achieved cult status, as Mousetrap has.  Theatre has changed in the thirty-seven years or so since Murder was first produced, and audiences now demand sharper, faster plays. How many companies these days would offer the general public a play by Bernard Shaw in its entirety? Even Shakespeare is getting the chop, and much of the extraneous dialogue cut out by modern directors – not always for the best, in my opinion, but certainly there are some plays that can do with a couple of thousand fewer words, especially in the Comedies.
The times they are definitely a’changing, and we’ve moved on from the old drawing room stage comedies of the 20th century. There are some things that television does better, so let’s leave Miss Marple to the small screen, along with other old chestnuts which should be retired unhurt, like An Inspector Calls, which was equally audience-unfriendly when it toured the country three years ago.  Live theatre should be left to exciting interpretations of the seriously important classics, and inspirational new drama.

2 responses to “Miss Marple and the case of the unnecessary tour

  1. I find this particular reviewer so off track sometimes. Infuriating. Here, it’s not about the quality of the show in question, but several statements that display a reviewer very out of touch.
    1. “Ran for only a year at the Vaudeville” – only a year?? A lot of West End shows would kill for a yearlong run. The fact is that most do much less.
    2. “How many companies these days would offer the general public a play by Bernard Shaw in its entirety?” Sydney Theatre Company had one of its biggest hits in years with an uncut Mrs Warren’s Profession last year. It even came back for a rare return season.
    3. “There are some things that television does better, so let’s leave Miss Marple to the small screen, along with other old chestnuts which should be retired unhurt, like An Inspector Calls, which was equally audience-unfriendly when it toured the country three years ago.” Is she kidding? That Stephen Daldry/National Theatre production of An Inspector Calls is almost universally regarded as one of the most revelatory productions of the last few decades. Famously, it collected more awards than any other production in history. Audience-unfriendly? After its run at the National, it ran at the Aldwych for a year and then at the Garrick for six years!
    I expect reviewers occupying prominent platforms to have a firm grasp of basic stuff like this. This reviewer is a repeat offender.

    1. Oh, and An Inspector Calls didn’t “tour the country three years ago”. It toured Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane eight years ago. Grrr.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *