A freshness that casts aside the detective fiction formula

Sophie Scott, Garmon Rhys, Morgan Philpott, Emerald O'Hanrahan, Elizabeth Marsh in The Secret Adversary
Sophie Scott, Garmon Rhys, Morgan Philpott, Emerald O'Hanrahan, Elizabeth Marsh in The Secret Adversary
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The Secret Adversary, 
Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne

Love your Agatha Christie, but you thought you’d read them all? Overdosed, perhaps, on Marple and Poirot? Then head for the Devonshire Park Theatre, where The Secret Adversary is deliciously different.

Sarah Punshon’s adaptation and direction has a freshness that casts aside the formula. There is frantic action, cracking music, and even a few magic tricks, all within a lovingly created ’20s framework. No attention to detail is spared in costume and set design. And wherever dialogue and characterisation do lean towards cliché, it is all knowingly done.

Miss Christie would approve. There are little nods of homage, right down to a subtle phrase of the Poirot theme tune from the saxophone at one point.

Tommy and Tuppence are an utterly improbable pair of detectives pitched into a battle to save the Nation, the Empire and Civilisation as we know it. The plot is daft, occasionally bewildering, but a good vehicle for the stylish, tongue-in-cheek playing.

Garmon Rhys and Emerald O’Hanrahan as the young leads are an absolute delight, totally engaging, and sparking off each other. They have a trio of strong male support from Morgan Philpott, Kieran Buckeridge and Nigel Lister – all deftly doubling a range of parts with ease.

Not too many productions require an actor to play both a dusky night club singer and a bearded Bolshevik, but the outstanding Elizabeth Marsh does it – and several other parts in between. Likewise Sophie Scott, smart and enigmatic by turns in other female roles.

Is it just a bit incongruous, taking what might have been a serious John Buchan-style tale of Empire and dipping it in flippancy? Well, remember that The 39 Steps was itself reborn in that madcap, skeltering West End production, and this one has similar tempo and panache.

And yes, it works a treat!