Writer: Agatha Christie
Adaptor: Sarah Punshon and Johann Hari
Director: Sarah Punshon
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
2015 marks the 125th anniversary of Agatha Christie’s birth. The writer’s popularity shows no sign of diminishing, and theatrical productions continue to be inspired by her impressive cannon of work. The Mousetrap has just celebrated its 26,000th performance, and now The Watermill Theatre is touring an adaptation of one of her earliest novels, The Secret Adversary.
Fans expecting a tradition Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot whodunit, however, may be in for a bit of a surprise. Christie’s original 320 page novel has been trimmed into a two-hour musical comedy.
From the opening number Look For The Silver Lining, it’s clear that there is going to be an equal measure of fun to balance the dastardly deeds that intrepid young adventurers Tommy and Tuppence will be thwarting. In typical Christie fashion the sleuths face various twists and turns and enough red herrings to start a fish market. As we chase through the backstreets of 1920s London the plot becomes more complex as the pair seek the elusive Mr Brown and try to stop his plot to bring down the government.
It may have been written 93 years ago but Christie’s novel, with its political backdrop, seems oddly topical with election fever gripping the country. Sarah Punshown (also directing) and Johann Hari’s adaptation may strip the piece back to the bare bones but, despite the unconventional staging, its still clearly a Christie work.
The piece is great fun and the hard working team of seven actors through themselves into the spirit admirably – quick changes, musical interludes and some impressive magic tricks all interwoven into the drama.
Garmon Rhys and Emerald O’Hanrahan are suitable wide-eyed and dashing as the young sleuths, their boundless energy and gung ho attitude the central driver for the piece. There is though fine work throughout the company, the rest of who play multiple rôles to populate this slightly madcap world.
Tom Rodgers’ compact but ingenious set creates not only a sense of atmosphere but also a miniature adventure playground, packed with hidden secrets, for the company to explore. There’s clever use of perspective and props to create a real sense of locale, while maintaining the fun theme.
It’s all very slick (although some of the timing on opening night at this tour venue could do with tightening up), all very enjoyable for two hours of light-hearted entertainment but there’s a feeling that it never quite reaches its full potential.
While the cast are accomplished, the concept clever and the staging impressive, the adaptation itself never seems quite sure what it is trying to achieve. The ending and final reveal seems somewhat rushed and the political overtones sit somewhat at odds with the joviality of the whole.
That said, it’s a fun two hours of theatre that will send audiences out with a 1920s spring in their step and a reminder that Agatha Christie is more than just Marple and Poirot.
Runs until 11 April and continues to tour | PhotoPhilip Tull