“What kind of people read detective stories and why?” asks Agatha Christie in her seminal essay Detective Writers in England. The Queen of Crime concludes that our love of whodunits stems from the fact that “the reader can have all the fun of the chase without moving from a comfortable armchair”. A similar pleasure awaits audiences of one-woman show Murder, Marple and Me, which combines backstage drama, Countess of Grantham-esque putdowns and enough twists and turns to satisfy the most ardent of Christie-philes.
In 1961, the seemingly benign spinster with a cynical view of human nature made her first foray onto the screen in Murder, She Said, a loose adaptation of 4.50 from Paddington. Christie’s well-documented reservations about tone are understandable, given the film’s reliance on broad comedy of manners, but what is more surprising is her objection to the original, subsequently iconic screen Marple, Margaret Rutherford – and that Rutherford, for whom Marple became a calling card, was at first vehemently opposed to appearing in such a sordid endeavour as a crime drama.
This battle of the Dames would be entertaining enough, but the real joy of Philip Meeks’ intriguing tale lies in teasing out the deep, dark mysteries beneath their mutual antipathy. We are guided on our quest by Miss Marple herself, relishing the disclosure of past horrors in between bouts of knitting, and it is to the credit of director Stella Duffy that the piece switches effortlessly between acerbic comedy and genuinely unsettling thriller.