THIS is Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d, but it is Rachel Wagstaff’s play.
For the stage, she has adapted Sebastian Faulks’s novel Birdsong and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (whose 2022 tour was cut short before its Grand Opera House run in York) and co-adapted Paula Hawkins’ The Girl On The Train too.
An earlier version of her take on Christie’s 1962 mystery The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side toured the UK in 2019. Now comes another crack at it for the Original Theatre Company, one that has modern sensibilities to shake up its outwardly old-fashioned mien.
Self-harm, repressed homosexuality and child loss burst through the surface in Wagstaff’s multi-layered drama rooted in the turbulence of fracturing mental health. The thunderbolt is Jane Marple’s explanation of why she has remained unmarried, still consumed by grief at her young love being shot for cowardice when serving in the First World War.
Philip Franks’s production is stylish, sharply dressed, light on its feet, played out in rooms with almost an excess of glass, in reference to the mirror of the title, reflective but also see-through. There may be plenty to hide but it can’t be hidden from view.
Adrian Linford’s open-plan, rotating setting is two-fold, serving as the grand English manor house newly acquired by an unsettling presence, American film star Marina Gregg (Sophie Ward), and her film director sixth husband of eight years, Jason Rudd (Joe McFadden), and as the home of “spinster sleuth” Jane Marple (Susie Blake) too.
Housebound and frustrated by a sprained ankle, she either sits with her knitting or takes to crutches or a walking stick, ever restless both physically and mentally.
A third, unseen setting plays its part, a new housing estate that “alarms the villagers as much as it intrigues them”. Miss Marple’s home help, Cherry Baker (Mara Allen), has moved in there, and there is more to her than first meets the eye. It was ever thus in Christie’s world.
Marina and hubby are making her first film in 12 years at the manor house, bringing an entourage that includes loyal servant Giuseppe Renzo (Lorenzo Martelli) and production assistant Ella Zielensky (Sarah Lowrie). Young co-star Lola Brewster (Christine Symone) is acting even more oddly than they are, as the plot thickens.
The story unfolds in flashbacks as Oliver Boot’s Inspector Craddock, sorry Chief Inspector, as he keeps correcting, conducts a murder investigation. Blake’s Miss Marple nudges her way into the case, asking the better questions, frustrating Craddock, who delightfully refers to her as his aunt.
Putting her oar in too is Dolly Bantry, former owner of the manor house, exquisitely played by character actress supreme Veronica Roberts, a superb piece of casting by Ellie Collyer-Bristow, who happened to be watching Wednesday’s performance in the next seat.
Miss Marple’s relationships with both Boot’s exasperated Craddock and Roberts’s dabbling Dolly, forever calling by, are suffused with humour in Blake’s performance, but there is intelligence, a seriousness of purpose, to her marvellous Marple. Kindness, sadness, wit and wits about her too.
McFadden’s Rudd is fiery, protective, deeply concerned for Marina’s mental wellbeing, but what is his motive? Ward’s Marina is damaged, graceful, charming when the moment takes her, but capricious, cold, dismissive…and mysterious. Ice and fire, guilt and regret, where will it lead?
Franks’s direction skilfully balances the humour, the double-act to-and fro of both Marple & Dolly and Marple and Craddock, with the darkness of Marina’s troubles. The smoothly interjected yet jolting flashbacks intensify the intrigue, bringing super-fan Heather Leigh (Jules Melvin) into the plot, although Craddock keeps on blocking the attempts of her husband Cyril (David Partridge) to do likewise in a well-worked running gag.
Why do theatres – as well as TV – keep doing whodunits? A midweek packed auditorium would tell you why: we love a mystery to solve, trying to work it out before the sleuth, and when that story is told as adeptly as it is by Wagstaff with direction and performances to match, then crack on with The Mirror Crack’d.
Original Theatre Company in Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d, York Theatre Royal, Saturday, 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.