York Theatre Royal’s latest season has turned out to be quite an eclectic one. It’s played host to several styles, stories and genres over the last few months. Currently occupying its main house is a story powered by a mix of national treasures and imagined meetings. This show is Philip Meeks’ new play Murder, Margaret and Me. Marketed as both a comedy and a thriller, and spattered with Agatha Christie nostalgia, I was intrigued to see what was going on behind the main house doors.
Murder, Margaret and Me follows some imagined meetings between Queen of Crime Agatha Christie (Nichola McAuliffe) and Margaret Rutherford (Susie Blake), dreamed up by the mysterious Spinster (Andrina Carroll). We delve into their personal lives, and as their stories progress and interweave, we uncover revelations and secrets that will undoubtedly feed their legendary histories.
As the lights go down and the curtain rises, we’re met by a series of dancing shadows across stage furniture covered with drapes. One by one, the characters emerge from this thematic, charged opening, which piques the audience’s interest before we meet the characters. While this is initially disorientating, we’re brought face to face with each character as they introduce themselves. We’re spurred on to piece the clues together, and arm ourselves as active spectators in a piece that cleverly paces itself and builds a strong relationship with the its audience.
There is some really lovely characterisation in this sharply written comedy drama. McAullife is excellent as Agatha Christie, establishing a cool, firm wit with which she uses as a perfect contrast against the no-nonsense demeanour employed by Blake as Margaret Rutherford. Their chemistry creates a lovely sense of dynamism that is frequently tapped into throughout, and nothing’s more infectious than feeling your fellow audience members gravitate towards their storytellers.
What’s perhaps most interesting about Murder, Margaret and Me is its command and use of the performance space. Director Damian Cruden makes excellent use of Dawn Allsopp’s economic set design, which initially looks slightly barren. But as the play progresses, we find that it blossoms into a hive of activity and atmosphere. We’re transported to plenty of different locations in a relatively short space of time, with the three performers cogently establishing their whereabouts and effectively executing Meeks’ text with commitment and confidence.
I wouldn’t say this piece is exactly a thriller. Rather, it’s packed to the brim with some truly lovely sensitive moments, lending themselves to the smooth and rather steady pace that the piece moves along at. It takes its time and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Moreover, it takes great care in establishing the aforementioned firm relationship with its audience, and finds itself quietly feeding off of its complicity as it progresses. It makes for a highly satisfying evening of theatre, and takes great pride in the way it maintains itself as you embark with it along its journey.
Murder, Margaret and Me is an exercise in the importance and power of strong, sharp writing. It’s also an exercise in the notion and importance of balance within a production. It’s got a perfect, potent mix of light and dark, and has a special sensitivity to an audience that may not be familiar with either of these national treasures. That said, this witty, charming production will undoubtedly add to the legacy of the secretive, celebrated women it revolves around.
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