Therry Dramatic Society. Arts Theatre. 8 Feb 2019
It’s amazing how the old girl always does it; has one guessing until the end.
Go Back for Murder is perhaps the trickiest of the Agatha Christie stage plays since half of it is confined to intense one-on-one interview scenes set in the 1950s with the second half a massive dissected flashback to 16 years earlier.
Its strategy is to dislodge the whodunnit’s identity from the evidence of five people who were present when the crime was committed. How does time distort memory?
When first written as a Poirot novel, Christie named this story Five Little Pigs. When she changed the name, she also replaced Poirot with a young English lawyer called Justin Fogg. And here he is, sleek and handsome, artfully embodied by Simon Lancione, sitting at his desk with his 1950s telephone consulting Carla Le Marchant, the daughter of his father’s old flame, Caroline Crale. Of course, it is all wildly Christie-complicated. His father was the lawyer who defended Caroline back in the 1930s and now Carla, whose mother died in prison, has received a letter from beyond the grave declaring Caroline was not guilty after all. So, Carla, who has been raised in Canada, has come back to England on a quest to clear her mother’s name before she marries. The actress who plays Carla has to double as Caroline in the flashback.
Chanelle Le Roux’s characterisation of Carla reminds of the American actress Chloe Sevigny with her swift delivery and her crisp accent. It’s an outstanding performance albeit, ironically, she seems less at home in the transition to the British inflections of the mother, Caroline.
Because the denouement is delivered in flashback, everyone in the cast bar the victim and Ms. Le Roux has to age 16 years - a very tall order which the Therry players accomplish effectively.
But first, they play on a stage cleverly divided into small offices: two with desks and phones; the other with side table and kettle, it being the home of the old governess, Miss Williams. Good lighting and swift cues make the conceit work nicely, along with torrents of information from the characters. It’s a wordy play, its verbosity a bit much for some.
When glamorous Elsa, now Lady Markham, sweeps onto the stage in the form of Zanny Edhouse, one is reminded of Vivien Leigh. If anything, Edhouse sustains this confident sense of vanity and poise as she loses years down to her time as the murder victim’s alluring young model. Her stride in flat shoes adds an extra dimension. It is another exceptional performance within this production.
Indeed, veteran director Norm Caddick has rounded up quite a thrilling cast of fresh and very able actors. He also has elicited from them a beautifully measured and very English delivery. Christie to the enunciated “T”.
Heather Riley captures superbly the essence of the good, English governess in Miss Williams, immaculate in age transition. Lani Gerbi has the biggest transition. After asserting an interesting adult as Carla’s disfigured half-sister in the first Act, she must transform to child in the revelatory flashback, to which end Gerbi gives the audience a welcome giggle with her lumbering childish petulance.
The supporting cast, especially Philip Blake and Jeff Rogers, keep the British upper lip nicely stiff, while Graham Lamonby as the amateur chemist and family friend, Meredith Blake, with his brother played by Jeff Baker, are pleasantly bumbling but vital ingredients to the plot which involves herbs and drinks and fingerprints and complex motives.
As the murder victim, the egocentric skirt-chasing artist Amyas, Stephen Bills does not have to age up. He just has to chew on paint brushes and be a devilishly handsome rotter. He does this with such aplomb that one is not a bit sad when he is knocked off.
Nick Spottiswoodes’s today-and-yesterday sets are nicely evocative and the frocks, really, are lovely. Brava Gillian Cordell.
When: 8 to 26 Feb
Where: Arts Theatre