Agatha Christie whodunit opens in Australia

Legendary sleuth Miss Jane Marple will grace the Australian stage

A stellar all-Australian cast will bring to life Agatha Christie’s A Murder Is Announced from September 27 with acclaimed actor Judi Farr playing the legendary Miss Marple on the Australian stage for the very first time.

This Australian tour, which kicks off in Sydney, then travels to Melbourne and Brisbane, follows the enormous success of Agatha Christie’s The Mouse Trap tour that celebrated its 60th anniversary.

A Murder is Announced is the fourth of 12 novels to feature Miss Marple and the first of Christie’s works featuring the “sensibly heeled” but legendary sleuth on stage or screen.

The plot: the villagers of Chipping Cleghorn, including Miss Jane Marple, are agog with curiosity over an ad in the local gazette that reads: “A murder is announced and will take place on Friday October 29th, at Little Paddocks at 6.30pm.” Unable to resist the mysterious invitation, a crowd gathers at Little Paddocks at the appointed time when suddenly the lights go out. Lo and behold when the lights come back on a body is discovered and it’s up to the formidable Miss Marple to solve the mystery.

This is a much-loved familiar genre that leaves you wondering how there are any people left in those scenic English villages where mysterious murders occur on a daily basis.

Melbourne-based actor Debra Lawrance (Home and Away, Evil Angels, The Memory of Water) plays Letitia Blacklock, the mistress of Little Paddocks, the house where the murder takes place.

“So many people want to see Agatha Christie on stage. She’s the most published author after Shakespeare and the Bible,” Lawrance said.

“I’m so excited. I can’t wait. It’s my first Agatha Christie but I’ve worked with director Darren Yap before. The best thing is that there are people who are very committed and know ‘whodunit’ and will be watching closely for the clues and others who’ve read it but can’t remember who did it and will enjoy the mystery like a person who has no idea but has been dragged along by their partner.”

The show’s 11 cast members – including James Beck, Carmen Duncan, Robert Grubb, Victoria Haralabidou, Jamie Kristian, Nathaniel Middleton, Libby Munro, Elizabeth Nabben and Deidre Rubenstein – play characters that span a very broad age range.

“The young people who represent the bright new world are incredibly beautiful and the older people have lived through some very hard times. The challenge for the cast is for all to convey that authenticity,” Lawrance said.

“My character would have been born in the late 19th century and lived through two wars. People in the 1950s would have gone through the mill.”

Debra Lawrance plays Letitia Blacklock, mistress of Little Paddocks

Lawrance said part of the attraction of the genre was that people wanted to escape to a world of manners, a time of thank you letters and good manners that made people feel good.

“Letitia is from that very formal time – the manners of the past are very present in her – who had the luxury of coming from a wealthy privileged family. She is single and has three young people staying with her and a dear old friend of hers from school.  She’s very generous of spirit and independent in her thinking.”

Agatha Christie was basically writing about what she knew, she said. “Most of her stories are based in houses she stayed at or owned and on characters she knew.”

Lawrance quipped that she was “bound by law” not to reveal the identity of the killer but said the audience would be “completely fascinated” when they found out who it was.

“The truly fascinating thing is watching Miss Marple find out – the audience will be carefully looking at the characters through her eyes. They’ll be taking in all the gorgeous costumes and sets but also all the little behavioural niceties and subtle clues. They will have the luxury of seeing it all play out in front of them.”

There have been many television productions of Christie’s novels and Lawrance said directors who did well used long, slow tracking shots, and flashbacks. There has been an effort to create a similar effect of stage.

“The beauty of the way it’s been written is that all the characters recount their version of events. The murder happens quickly in shocking circumstances and then you look carefully at the characters and watch Miss Marple work her way through the evidence.”

Lawrance is looking forward to the tour and said it was a delight to even just rehearse.

“It’ll be fun to just be on the set with those great props to play with, like in a proper drawing room. It has a wonderful cast, a great director and amazing producers. The costumes are fabulous too – my dresses are exquisite.”

She promises audiences a “visually delicious, intellectually stimulating and satisfying journey”.

A Murder is Announced is at the Sydney Theatre from September 27; the Comedy Theatre Melbourne from October 30 and Brisbane (venue to be announced) from December 27. For more information visit the A Murder is Announced website.

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