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A murder is announced - a review

A murder is announced

The Bay Theatre Players, The Bay Playhouse, 33 Gregory St, Batemans Bay

“A murder is announced” was published in June 1950. This may seem a long time ago but as I looked around the audience I realised that at least half of them were born before this date. I hasten to say that I cannot count myself among their number but only by a short hair. The 1950s is the time of my childhood; full of memories of meat safes, twin tub washing machines, over-cooked vegetables and wooden sideboards. My parents’ wooden sideboard housed the sherry. Sherry was drunk by adults on rare occasions from glasses which were so small as to make the effort hardly worthwhile. It was a nice touch, therefore, when we rocked up to the Bay Playhouse to be offered sherry and fruitcake. This was all part of director Jack Helmore’s approach to the production of the play. This was no Bell Shakespeare doing Richard III in 21st century costume; this was a play set in the 1950s and performed as though it were the 1950s. And it succeeded. When I spoke to Jack about this he said that “although it doesn’t appear to be a period piece, there is a big difference between 1950s post-war England and 21st century Australia.”

Of course, “A murder is announced” was a novel … indeed, it was her fiftieth novel. The only play that Agatha Christie wrote was the famous (possibly infamous) “Mousetrap” which opened in London’s West End in 1952 and has run continuously since then. Jack Helmore’s production of “A murder is announced” is based on the stage adaptation by Leslie Darbon. Darbon is an English playwright about whom I can discover almost nothing. His adaptation reduces the number of characters and takes such liberties with the novel’s plot as are necessary to create a suitable stage version. The playwrights’ database contains a snappy synopsis of the play. “There is an announcement in the local newspaper stating where, when and who will be murdered at Miss Blacklock's house. But the person named does not live there. Miss Marple sorts things out.”

A decent script with a good plot is but the first ingredient of an enjoyable theatrical experience. The other ingredients were all there in good measure in this production.

The set was an English living room from the 1950s that looked every bit like the rooms in my childhood homes. There in the centre of the set is the inevitable sideboard which was loaned by the 2nd Hand Shop in the Homemaker Centre and is for sale at the end of the season. Buy it immediately; my mother would have polished it to death and you could do that too. I can never remember many colours from houses of the 1950s; the bright pinks and greens and yellows we have today hadn’t been invented. The set designer (Sam Lloyd) had not succumbed to the temptation to throw in the occasional brighter hue. Greens and browns were good enough for the 1950s and they were good enough for this set. Lloyd had chosen pieces for the set that were right for the period. In his introduction in the program (very well-produced and very good value at $4), Helmore says that he had the “chance to dress up [the] cast in 1950s costumes.” These ranged from the flamboyant to the dowdy. Julia Simmons (played by Aimee McQueen) wore some wonderful frocks while Dora Brunner (Myf Thompson) carried off her more matronly creations to great effect. Mrs Swettenham (Janet Kohler-Bond) dressed at one point in day wear that featured scarlet gloves to match the scarlet timing on her coat and dress. One forgets that in the 1950s ladies always wore gloves on any social occasion … and hats. And where did they find those wonderful slacks worn by Philippa Haymes (played by Paige Davies)? I want a pair … do they do them for men?

Above: Paige Davies as Philippa Haynes in full flight (PHOTO: http://www.baytheatreplayers.org.au) We went to the Preview Showing which might seem to be a bit like the production that comes between the dress rehearsal and the first night. The performance was rather better than that description might imply. Anyone who has trodden the boards will worry about forgetting their lines and anyone who has trodden the boards will know that they will forget their lines. The trick is to cover it up. There were a couple of slip-ups but they were well-covered up. Overall the acting was very good. Myf Thompson as Dora Brunner delivered a seriously impressive performance. At one point I found myself watching her sitting in a chair in the corner of the stage while the dialogue was elsewhere; brilliant facial expressions. And the raised eyebrows at the point where she sends Letitia Blacklock (Stefanie Foster) to get some aspirins … well, that was a masterstroke. Aimee McQueen was a compelling Julia Simmons as she reparteed with her brother Patrick Simmons (played by Jack Smith). Smith played a good character; you were never quite sure whether he was a nasty piece of work or just a bit of a clot. Candy Burgess played the inevitable Miss Marple wearing the tweed costumes of the BBC adaptations we have all seen; my goodness, they must have been uncomfortable in their day. Her interpretation of Miss Marple as a mild old biddy was well done. But the success of a stage production depends, ultimately, on the production. It is attention to detail that makes a play succeed. As an example, when I spoke to Helmore he pointed out the “need to get the pronunciations right; 1950s English has the words ‘France’ and ‘plant’ spoken with a long vowel.” Because I am English I didn’t notice this, but my wife did. The music was well-chosen, the lighting was effective and the sound remarkably clear. Jack Helmore’s interpretation of the script was well paced and created the right ambience and atmosphere for an enjoyable afternoon’s entertainment. I emerged a better man for the experience and you should go and see this … for heaven’s sake, it’s not going to cost you more than $25 for a bit of serious culture. Tickets are available from Bargain Box, Shop 6, The Homemaker Centre, 2 Cranbrook Road, Batemans Bay, or by calling (02) 4472 5984 between 9:00am and 4:00pm weekdays and 9:00am and 12:00 noon on Saturdays. Tickets purchased over the phone can be held for you at the theatre door. Saturday 8 July 7:30pm $20 adults $18 concession GALA OPENING NIGHT Sunday 9 July 2:00pm (Friends of the Eurobodalla Botanic Gardens Fundraiser) $25 all tickets Thursday 13 July 7:30pm $20 adults $18 concession Friday 14 July 7:30pm (Operation Christmas Child Fundraiser) $25 all tickets Saturday 15 July 2:00pm $20 adults $18 concession Sunday 16 July 2:00pm (Animal Welfare League Fundraiser) $22 all tickets Thursday 20 July 7:30pm (Friends of Maranatha Lodge Fundraiser) $25 all tickets Friday 21 July 7:30pm $20 adults $18 concession Saturday 22 July 7:30pm $20 adults $18 concession

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