Photo: Johann Persson
A grizzly murder, a group of suspicious characters trapped in a hotel by a blizzard, a family secret. What could go wrong?
Agatha Christie’s classic murder mystery is the world’s longest running shows, which has been transfixing audiences since opening in 1952. The murderer’s identity is a legendary West End secret.
Newly-wed couple Mollie and Giles Ralston have set up a guest house and are getting ready to welcome their first guests – none other than the whole cast of Cluedo (a portly Major, a curmudgeonly spinster, a sinister foreigner...). As the guests arrive – all behaving as if they have something to hide – they realise they have been snowed in by ferocious blizzard. It becomes clear there’s a murderer on the loose and that Monkswell Manor is suspected to be the site of his or her’s next murder...
The set – or crime scene - was simply one chintzy drawing room, which had several entrances from which the characters exit and enter, giving the play the element of a farce. You can see where spoof production ‘The Play that Goes Wrong’ gets its inspiration.
The cast features Gwyneth ‘Cassandra from Only Fools and Horses’ Strong taking the part of moaning Mrs Boyle. It’s a fairly two-dimensional role, but then they all are. Sgt Trotter (TROTTER!!) played by Geoff Arnold is your archetypal copper, drilling all the suspects to reveal their secrets.
I loved trying to puzzle out the plot and spot the killer (I didn’t). Even the most masterly of sleuths will struggle to pick him or her out, the clever plot suggesting that any one of the characters could be involved right until the final scene.
As a museum piece, the play is marvellous! Crime thrillers have no doubt become more sophisticated since the fifties but in terms of a good old fashioned whodunit, this one is king!
I’ll leave it to Christie to explain the play’s enduring appeal: “It’s the sort of play you can take anyone to. It’s not really frightening. It’s not really horrible. It’s not really a farce, but it has a little bit of all these things and perhaps that satisfies a lot of different people.”