By Danielle Farrow
The Me in Murder, Marple and Me is ambiguous, for this excellent exploration of the ways in which Margaret Rutherford (who famously portrayed Miss Marple), and Agatha Christie (creator of Marple) connected, presents both of these real people alongside Miss Marple herself, all played by Janet Prince. This solo performer play, exploring Rutherford’s reluctance to play the famous sleuthing old lady, is directed by Stella Duffy with a clear sense of the unfolding story.
Three sections of stage are created, with seating in each space, a dressing room mirror central for Rutherford during her filming of Marple – along with a cake trolley for entertaining her writer visitor – a standard lamp and a wee tipple on one side for a knitting Miss Marple to inform us of a murder, and a desk with typewriter on the opposite side for Christie’s habitat. The lack of fully raked seating in the venue is somewhat frustrating for gaining set details, but Prince manages a full-bodied performance for each character that rises above this.
Prince includes the physical mannerisms so associated with Rutherford, along with reasonable touches of her voice, and brings in something of Joan Hickson for Miss Marple, a far more bird-like quality being evident and referenced than Rutherford’s ampler figure and something that Christie would have preferred for her creation. Christie and Rutherford are not immediately comfortable with each other, but the author becomes intrigued by the actress and the meeting between them, the investigation it stimulates in Christie and the story that unfolds through the sight of Rutherford, the evidence gathered by Christie and the narrative offered by Marple is intriguing, poignant and – in its presentation – humorous.
Philip Meeks’ script allows a gentle warmth and intrigue to clarify into a tale of interest and of some pain, while being amusing, referencing elements of the three characters that are known to their fans and giving Prince a vehicle in which to display her skill in characterisation and clear storytelling, along with her strong presence, well able to hold the audience’s attention throughout. Whilst stumbling occasionally, her knowledge and understanding of the material is evident, and the three characters clear, with changes between Christie and Rutherford – once warmed up – swift and well-defined.
Music is sometimes a little harsh, but sounds set memory and imagination off well, and lighting helps create the characters’ places as well as trips down Rutherford’s memory lane.
Murder, Marple and Me is an intriguing look at some mysterious elements of Margaret Rutherford’s life, with a sense of subtlety in its telling, an interesting format in the use of Christie and Marple, and an accomplished actor in the person of Janet Prince. Deservedly a popular Fringe show for a couple of years now.