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Murder, Margaret and Me review at Theatre Royal, York – ‘well-crafted’

Nichola McAuliffe and Susie Blake in Murder, Margaret and Me at York Theatre Royal. Photo: Anthony Robling
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Agatha Christie and Margaret Rutherford would surely spin in their graves if they knew the secret sorrows of Britain’s “queen of crime” and the actress once described as the “funniest woman alive” were being investigated publicly on stage.

Fortunately there’s a clued-up sense of respectful inquiry in the first professional production of Philip Meeks’ reworked murder mystery, that began as an Edinburgh Fringe solo show and now not only brings these two successful women together to imagine how their relationship might have developed from mutual distrust to mutual respect, but also introduces a nosy Miss Marple figure who discovers enough evidence to prove that their creative impulses were informed by a shared sense of vulnerability and sadness.

As writer and actress meet on the set of the first Miss Marple film at the height of their fame, Damian Cruden’s production provides a suitably theatrical atmosphere, with scene-shifters moving the action between Elstree Studios, Christie’s study, Rutherford’s chintzy home and afternoon tea at Claridge’s. But the plot thickens when a confident Christie confesses that it was her first husband’s infidelity that unleashed her killer instinct for a good crime story and it emerges that Rutherford’s jolly public persona hid a horror of inherited insanity.

Meeks’ script reliably weighs up their autobiographical details, and Nichola McAuliffe and Susie Blake bring them alive with perfectly matched, carefully calibrated performances that verge on a Christie and Rutherford double-act without veering off into caricature, while Andrina Carroll is suitably prying as the spinsterish seeker after uncomfortable truths.

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A well-crafted tribute to two uniquely talented women