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The Secret Adversary

Sophie Scott, Garmon Rhys, Morgan Philpott, Emerald O'Hanrahan and Elizabeth Marsh inThe Secret Adversary at the Watermill Theatre. Photo: Photo Philip Tull
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“Are you following the plot?” we are asked at the top of Act II. “No!” chorus a number of the audience in unison. It has to be admitted that this theatrical version of the first of Agatha Christie’s five Tommy and Tuppence convoluted page-turners leaves audience members frequently scratching their heads. But it’s all part of the fun. Sarah Punshon, as director and co-adaptor, gets the atmosphere spot-on, by channelling the story through a meta-theatrical device that observes it as a kind of music hall entertainment, complete with jaunty renditions of songs like Look for the Silver Lining (there are also amusingly anachronistic interpolations of Madonna’s Material Girl and Hey Big Spender).

Punshon’s co-adaptor is journalist Johann Hari, who left The Independent in 2011 following the exposure that he had plagiarised the work of others, but here he and Punshon do something highly impressive. They summon the spirit of Agatha Christie faithfully, yet maintain a playful air of drama and improbable jeopardy that Tommy (Garmon Rhys) and Tuppence (Emerald O’Hanrahan) get embroiled in after doing a bunk from a hotel restaurant without paying the bill, which involves a plot to bring about no less than a revolution.

Punshon and her inventive designer Tom Rogers produce some dizzyingly brilliant perspective changes on the tiny Watermill stage that are worthy of Robert Lepage. A clever, versatile cast – frequently doubling as musicians for the musical accompaniment – give it a propulsive momentum.

February 12-March 21, PN: February 18 (then tours until May 9)

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Agatha Christie adaptation has a similar comic energy to the stage version of The 39 Steps, but without the quick changes