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A Murder Is Announced - The Little Theatre

Reviewed by Bliss Warland-Edge
Disclaimer: tickets were gifted in return for an honest review 


Leslie Darbon’s adaptation of a classic Miss Marple folly is delivered in comforting fashion by Leicester Drama Society this September at the Little Theatre, in “A Murder Is Announced”, directed by John Bale

The cast of A Murder Is Announced. Photo by Dave Morris Photography 

As the name implies, our plot hinges on the delivery of a deadly prophesy that predicts a death on Friday 13th at 6:30pm in the household of our matriarch Letitia Blacklock

Scenic designs by Jacob Martin offer a majestic old money’ aesthetic including stags heads and oak furniture, fitting in aptly with the high society structures favoured by Agatha Christie, on which to hang her mystery narratives. The typical twists and herrings are delivered effectively by this cast, in subtle performance by some characters and emphatically screamed by others, culminating in a cake taking main stage as the curtains close.

To see this adaptation for the sound design (Stew Wale) and the stage effects (Frazer Tew) alone would be enough, with a powerful orchestral opening that shakes the audience awakeforewarning an imposing projection of a Hitchcock-esque bloody newspaper onto the curtainwhich then develops into a cosy crooner soundtrack for each scene transition. 

Our first characters enter the stage with bold delivery and distinct character work, with Alexandra Elliott playing Letitia Blacklocka composed mistress of the house and Dora Bunner, known as “Bunny” (Liz Kavanagh)delivering a performance of senility verging on infantility, but with very effective comedic timingSoon after, we are introduced to a young brother and sister named Julia Simmons (Rose Bale), who enters flapping and exaggeratedly chortling and Patrick Simmons (Simon Butler), who saunters in with reciprocating guffaws as they establish a level of childlike play that feels quite cringeworthy for two clearly grown adults. Costume design here (John Bale) appears to be period appropriate and effective for the older cast, although certain wardrobe choices for the ‘youngsters’ furthers the ambiguity of the age of these characters. With these introductions over, a squabble over atraditional broadsheet newspaper ends with the reveal of the deadly announcement, with Bale throwing out the fun recognisable cliché of “things like that don’t happen here”

Accompanying this dramatic announcement enters the standout performance of the night, in the form of Mitzi (Diani Gatenby Davies). Gatenby Davies hoists the audience up in their seats with a powerful entrance, injecting energy into the scene with an impressive -if not heavily stereotypical- Russian accent and physical comedy that tickled the audience throughout the entire play. 

Rose Bale (Julia Simmons) and Simon Butler (Patrick Simmons). Photo by Dave Morris Photography

After a series of ominous knocks and surprise guests to the home on th
at fated evening, our action really begins as a shocking white flash blinds the audience before being plunged into darkness. Forced to rely on our auditory senses, we hear a gunfire shot and aggressive tones echoing out across the stage. When the lights come on, we are to examine our final suspects for the prescient crime which now includes: Phillipa Haymes (Rachael Humphrey), Edmund Swettenham (Luke Collins)his mother Clara Swettenham (Cathy Rackstraw) and of course Miss Marple (Jane Towers) at the scene of the crime. Despite almost the entire cast now filling the stage, Phillipa’s lacklustre entrance and Miss Marple’s delicate delivery fail to make an impact, leading the subtly and skill in Collins and Rackstraw’s acting to be more noticeable as the cast gather.

Enter an Inspector (Michael King) and Sergeant (Abdullah Henlyduo that rival Midsomer Murders in their light-hearted quips back and forth, between the gruff, traditional inspector with an edge and our inquisitive sergeant with an impressively authentic cockney accent. This recognisable ‘buddy cop’ dynamic and slick character work effectively draws the audience into the small country town context for murder, as we discover a man’s besuited body on the floor.

Rounding up Act 1, we end on an ambiguous note, questioning the motives of all involvedwith a lingering stare, a stilted response, or an overly curious question from our Miss Marple.

Act 2 opens with fun prop work (Shelley Martin and Tim Lovell) with the household all reading a large broadsheet in front of the audience, prop choices can also be noted at other points in the play including the effective choice of Marple knitting away during a particularly lengthy dialogue between the inspector and the other guests. Key moments in this Act include; the cast reeling at the loss of Dora Bunner to a ‘deathly’ cakeas Patrick satirically suggested earlier in the play; our initially cringeworthy sibling rivalry is revealed as a cover for illicit lovers, leading to oohs from the audience over Patrick and Julia’s saucy kiss; and we are treated to a complex backstory weaving our characters into layers of subterfuge and secret identities tying the whole plot together in a neat bow. Highs and lows in the Act 2 performance included: Gatenby Davies continues to be notable in her ability to ham up the physical comedy for the crowdalthough at points the mildly-offensive stereotypes were a little risqué; an incredibly long exposition was delivered nonchalantly between Elliott and King taking the punch out of our mystery narrative and leaving the audience somewhat confused by the names being thrown around; repartee between Marple and the inspector gets us back on track, leading to an exciting and effective revealing. Despite Marple being attacked by sharp scissors in our closing moments, the play ends on a dark humoured joke around the poisoning in the birthday celebrations which Miss Marple happily chows down on, and ironically making us all leaving the theatre wanting cake!

A Murder Is Announced plays at The Little Theatre until Saturday 16th September. Tickets are available from

Jane Towers (Miss Marple). Photo by Dave Morris Photography

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