The Queen of Crime never threatened the Bard of Avon when it came to writing plays. But, happily, once again Bill Kenwright’s Official Agatha Christie Theatre Company under the very capable direction of Joe Harmston dusts down one of her crusty dramas and injects new life into it.
Go Back for Murder started life as the 1942 novel Five Little Pigs in which Hercule Poirot plays something of an armchair detective, trying to solve a crime without visiting the murder scene and relying purely on the testimony of suspects and witnesses.
Agatha Christie adapted it into the play in 1960 sans Poirot, and this production captures the two time periods by setting the ‘present day’ action in 1968, with the murder happening 20 years before (cue some splendid costumes by Brigid Guy and music from Matthew Bugg).
Sophie Ward shines and has some fun with her dual casting: as the sensitive wronged wife, Caroline Crale, imprisoned for poisoning her artist husband in 1948 and who died not long afterwards, and as her daughter Carla, who comes to England from Canada in a determined bid to uncover the truth, having been told by her mother in a letter that she was innocent.
Indeed, the whole cast works exceptionally well – filleting plenty of red herrings in the more static first half in which Carla listens to the evidence of the five suspects, and stepping back in time in the second act as the day of the murder is replayed.
Ben Nealon is pleasing as the son of the barrister who originally defended Caroline, ably assisting Carla in her quest; while Gary Mavers is delightfully rogueish, with plenty of twinkle in his eyes, as the philandering artist Amyas – a perfect portrait of a cad who deserves some sort of comeuppance.
The five suspects are played beautifully, although Agatha’s dramatic shorthand does mean that a couple of the characters never really come close to being likely candidates for the whodunit unmasking. Robert Duncan and Anthony Edridge play the Blake brothers with authority, tinged with sympathy for unrequited love and unfulfilled ambition; Lysette Anthony is rather gorgeous as a pouting Elsa, the spoiled and spiteful mistress turned society lady; Liza Goddard is strong as the devoted governess whose evidence is as key in the present day as it was then; and Georgia Neville manages to convince as the world-weary archaeologist who we see as a schoolgirl in the second half.
Which little piggy did the murderous deed is revealed dramatically by the final curtain, although one oddity about the production is why – if the killer can lie in their “flashback” – they make the poisoning act so obvious.
If the production starts off a little drily, the acting, the scene changes, and the all-round enthusiastic energy are bound to encourage the audience to want to engage their own little grey cells in trying to solve the mystery. And with this most pleasing production in our minds, we cannot wait to see the revival of Black Coffee (complete with Belgian detective) next year!