Murder, Marple and Me Gilded Balloon

This was a big hit last year at the Fringe and subsequently toured the UK to critical acclaim. Written by Phillip Meeks, directed by Stella Duffy and starring Janet Prince as Margaret Rutherford, Agatha Christie and Miss Marple herself, this is a clever and entertaining play presented in the whodunit style we would expect of a Marple mystery.

The plot revolves around the initially frosty relationship between actress Rutherford and writer Christie. Rutherford had misgivings about taking on the film role of Miss Marple and Christie did not want her books filmed at all, nor did she see Rutherford in the role of her diminutive spinster detective. One thing Margaret Rutherford certainly could not be described as was diminutive. She was a larger than life character who looked like a dowager of the country set with her tweeds and brogues or a jolly hockey sticks mistress of a girls’ school. But is she all that she seems or is there something darker hidden behind the jollity?

Christie determines to find out her secrets and gradually, as she gains her confidence, she begins to uncover tragic events in Rutherford’s past. Why is the tamarind tree in Rutherford’s childhood in India so significant? Who are the father and son walking along the shore? The scene is set by Miss Marple herself who sits knitting in the corner, lit by an eerie uplight, narrating the background to the tragic tale.

It is all beautifully done. Janet Prince is able to portray all three characters perfectly with a simple change of tone and bearing. Christie is somewhat haughty and does not suffer fools or adoring fans gladly. She dreams of different ways of killing off the insufferable Poirot and prefers her creation of the spinster Miss Marple. Rutherford shows a childlike naivety, with her family of toy animals and the mutual devotion she shares with her husband, Stringer Davis or “Tuft” as she affectionately calls him. Gradually we piece together the clues of the mystery until, like Christie, we have found the real story of Margaret Rutherford, the story of her family background and her own personal demons that she wanted to keep hidden.

This is a real treat for fans of old fashioned thrillers and of good theatre.

Irene Brownlee