Chris Eldon Lee reviews “Go Back For Murder” which is at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until Saturday 9th February and then Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn from the 15th to 20th July 2013.
The line “You look just like your mother!” comes in uncommonly handy in “Go Back For Murder”, as the highly versatile Sophie Ward plays both daughter and mum in Agatha Christie’s time shifting play – first produced in 1960 but based on her much earlier novel “Five Little Pigs”.
The Official Agatha Christie Theatre Company are now in their eighth year and take to the road again with no Belgian detective or tweedy old lady in sight – and no butler to blame.
Sophie Ward plays Carla Le Marchant who, having discovered a deathbed letter, has flown the Atlantic to clear her mother’s name of the murder of her artist father twenty years ago. It’s 1968 and she’s a 25-year-old Swinging Sixties chick with an intelligent investigative mind (Miss Marple in a miniskirt?) who refuses to take the advice “Just let it rest”. So, one by one, she tracks down everybody who was in the house on that fateful day in 1948 and then brings them together again two decades later in search of a denouement.
The play is intriguingly different if somewhat pointed, presumably to help us follow the complex proceedings. There are precious few clues and only a couple of slightly over-bloated red herrings. By half time we’ve met all the suspects individually and learned their feelings for each other but, otherwise, we sleuths in the stalls have nothing to go on. The added complication is that we see things acted out as the various houseguests remember them – not necessarily as they really were. And Christie takes full advantage of the scope for misheard dialogue and forgotten moves to obfuscate.
It is however a highly hypnotic evening and it’s so good to see a Christie play that breaks the mould. Sophie Ward commands the stage with courtesy and charm – so much so that even the villain accepts her invitation to doom. As the daughter, she captures the drive, determination and freedom that young women in the 1960s demanded. And, in a twinkling, she’s an equally convincing 1940s county lady desperate to keep hold of her self-consumed, philandering husband who feels he can bed his models for his art. He’s played by Gary Mavers who turns the bearded bohemian into a deeply detailed cameo role of a man living in a separate, selfish, post-war reality.
The cast oozes pedigree with Lynette Anthony as the leggy temptress, Robert Duncan as the solid sort of chap who lost his love to the flamboyant painter, and a lovely limping Liza Goddard who gets laughs with witty repartee about afternoon tea.
Bearing in mind the play is dependent on flashbacks the transitions are handled appallingly. What possessed the director to take the notion so literally? Just because they are called flashbacks, you don’t have to flash extremely bright lights back in the audience’s faces every time the decade changes. The searing white, blinding glare forces us to avert our gaze and disengage with the play. It’s arrogant, inconsiderate, counter-productive and potentially dangerous.
That apart, this is a competent, consuming and classy whodunit. But it may not quite prove to be the absolute classic the company craved for.