This is not one for Agatha Christie purists. In Rachel Wagstaff’s radical adaptation of the 1962 Miss Marple novel, names have been changed, back stories invented, and crucial plot lines and relationships altered. The results are brilliant and irritating by turns.
Miss Marple (Susie Blake) is getting on a bit; though she’s still mentally sharp as a tack, she’s physically frail with mobility problems from a recent fall and marginalised in a changing world as the 1960s dawn.
Blake’s Marple is a balance of wry humour and sharp intelligence. She’s strongly supported by Julia Hills’ gossipy Dolly Bantry and Simon Shepherd’s splendidly buttoned-up Chief Inspector Craddock.
They are still in St Mary Mead, but so too are supermarkets, new housing developments and new tenants at Gossington Hall, as Hollywood royalty in the form of glamorous actress Marina Gregg (Suzanna Hamilton) and her director husband (Joe Dixon) take up residence.
Wagstaff and director Melly Still throw every cinematic trick in the book – flashbacks, action replays, rewinds, slow motion, freeze frames – to illustrate how village do-gooder Heather Leigh (Katherine Manners) comes to die so dramatically at the fete thrown in Gossington’s grounds.
It’s a clever but tricksy way of showing the same event from different angles and viewpoints. Richard Kent’s cavernous set with its see-through walls, Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting and Jon Nicholls’ sound design and music add to the filmic quality of the staging.
Initially, it feels too frenetic and overblown. Once it settles and is allowed to breathe, the production becomes a much more satisfying affair and ends up a thoroughly entertaining take on one of Christie’s best.