images © Ali Wright.
If the idea of Susie Blake as Miss Marple engaging in pontifications about self-harm and the practicalities of same-sex coupling wasn’t on your 2023 theatre bingo card, then you certainly wouldn’t be alone.
And yet, such are some of the wrinkles and pleasant surprises found in Rachel Wagstaff and Philip Franks’ admirably full-bodied take on Christie classic The Mirror Crack’d.
Setting the scene, things at the outset of Crack’d are quintessential Christie, practically de rigueur. A woman poisoned. A roster of shady supporting characters to fill out the suspect line-up. Overbearing spouses. Hints at secrets of yesteryear. And all pivoting around Blake’s kindly Marple, here nursing a ‘gammy’ leg, left the task of piecing it all together and fingering the culprit.
There’s a solid Christie whodunnit running through the heart of Crack’d, with enough twists, turns, red herrings and revelations to keep even ardent fans of the genre analysing every line and gesture, comparing theories in the interval, and second-guessing motive and means right up to the final curtain. As a murder mystery, it gets the job done in suitably absorbing fashion.
“As a murder mystery, it gets the job done in suitably absorbing fashion.”
Yet, there’s a depth and resonance to this incarnation of the story that elevates it beyond your typical Christie fare. Wagstaff mines a surprising amount of pathos out of its cast of conflicted, troubled characters, not least of all Sophie Ward’s glamorous yet wounded movie star, Marina. Sure, there are nudges and hits at the shallow, manipulative beast that is the Hollywood system, but it’s in far more relatable and maternal pains that Ward’s Marina hits home.
Even Blake’s iconic heroine, Marple herself, is afforded time to see her own pain and journey rise to the fore. For certain, Mirror Crack’d pulls off its murders and malevolence with relish, but there’s just as much to savour and enjoy here in listening to two old friends reminisce about their former lives, and lost loves.
It’s Marple, with an infectious degree of added humanity and heart. And, as alluded to in some of the more contemporary issues and ideas touched upon, even a daring splash of modernity, too.
There’s plenty of levity, as well. The relationship between Marple and ‘nephew’ Inspector Craddock (a splendid Oliver Boot) in particular offers plenty of zippy back-and-forth and cheekiness between the duo, and in many ways forms the beating heart of the show. But there is, alongside the anguish and the surprisingly moving two-handers, plenty to giggle at throughout.
“There is, alongside the anguish and the surprisingly moving two-handers, plenty to giggle at throughout.”
Strictly champ Joe McFadden pops up throughout as Marina’s film director husband, but in truth it’s a bit part in a show dominated by its women. Ward, as mentioned, is suitably graceful and enigmatic as Marina, completely convincing as the former Hollywood starlet returning to the limelight. Christine Symone is tremendous and increasingly impressive as she peels back the layers of her young ingenue, whilst Veronica Roberts routinely steals scenes – and laughs – as Marple’s old friend and neighbour, Dolly.
Unsurprisingly, Susie Blake is the steady, dependable anchor around which the entire show steers. Her take on Marple is understated, delicate and not remotely showy or overt. She effortlessly channels the very essence of the character, and the disarming, unassuming charm that Christie always wrought as her greatest investigative asset.
A classy production, The Mirror Crack’d looks, sounds and moves with polish and flair. Franks bounces between the present and flashbacks in intuitive and organic style throughout, ably abetted by Adrian Linford’s rotating, chameleonic set. The odd wobbly fake movie camera here and there aren’t enough to undermine a show that carries the Christie mark of excellence with pride.
The case of the Christie classic can often be considered an easy one to pull off; the queen of crime leaves it all there on the page. And yet, as this confident and intoxicating riff on one of her seminal Marple outings shows, a game cast and clued-up creative team can plumb new depths from even the classics. The Mirror Crack’d is no red herring – a gripping, involving and impressively human story wrapped around a murder mystery classic for this – and all – ages.