Going to see theatrical adaptations of Agatha Christie’s classic detective stories, or adaptions of murder mystery/thrillers in general, has become quite the tradition in my time of reviewing at Cardiff’s New Theatre. Granted, they have also become slightly hit or miss over the years as well. However, this is a production I’ve truly been very excited to see. The Mirror Crack’d is a new theatrical adaptation of a Miss Marple mystery. Miss Marple is, of course, one of Christie’s two most famous detective characters alongside Hercule Poirot. While I have watched both characters come to life through their respective televisions series’ I had personally never heard of this particular narrative before. It was the nature of this production as a joint venture between the Wales Millennium Centre, who I was lucky enough to receive an invitation to the press night from, and Wiltshire Creative which really got me excited to see how this one would differ from the rest.
Let’s start with the main lady herself. Susie Blake takes on the lady who Christie describes as having been born around the age of 65 and she does a spectacular job. Blake has captured so much of Miss Marple’s charm whilst also ensuring that the character is witty, sympathetic, vulnerable but also not afraid to look someone in the eye and ask them about a topic they would rather be silent about. Speaking of which, this production deals with quite a few difficult and heavy-hitting topics, however, most of these come completely naturally through Blake’s dialogue especially when in conversation with her best friend Dolly Bantry, played by Julia Hills. It may also seem like a small detail but throughout the entire production I could hear every single word spoken by any character and, given some sound issues of previous productions, this was an appreciated detail. The audience also got to see some of the more seemingly mundane aspects of Miss Marple’s advanced age and the difficulties which can come with this. These never went on for too long and it was lovely and refreshing to see these realist aspects acknowledged by a production like this.
In terms of the cast as a whole there is not one weak link. Some characters obviously have more to work with than others but I truly enjoyed every performance which made up the cast of characters. Narratively speaking I felt this production was very balanced in terms of character numbers. I found that each character was easy to keep track of amongst the crowd but there were just enough members of the cast to be a little lost at times, however, this script truly made this an excellent thing as it only happened when the characters themselves experienced it. Both the narrative and the characterisations felt very particular of the time period but are simultaneously recognisable for an audience today both as characters but also to relate to. The characters do stick within their roles but they never seemed too stereotyped.
As I mentioned before, this was not a Christie tale which I had previously heard of so I was really excited to see where the story would go as the title gives nearly nothing away. The narrative itself made me immediately think of the television series but in the comforting way of bringing up nostalgia of watching something from year ago. However, from that moment on Rachel Wagstaff manages to make this narrative both so gripping but also so perfectly fitted to the form of theatre rather than screen that I couldn’t imagine any part of this production being done another way. Also, in terms of the script, I appreciates that references to mirrors and cracking were slipped in and emphasised enough but they never became too obvious or silly. Similarly, to the conversations between characters mentioned above Wagstaff’s script ensures that nothing is prioritised over succinct believability and the realist elements are the rock of this narrative. While I did predict some major elements they all had validation and they were actually smaller twists than I had anticipated. The number of twists and turns is just enough and they are all placed correctly so that the audience are never complacent. I also appreciated that the connections between characters and their reasons for being in the location never felt forced.
The depictions of memories, and the theme of memory in general, are vital to this production and they are done in a very seamless but intriguing manner. The fluid movements of the memories flowing into a form of choreography created interesting depictions of the moment of death very specific to the form of theatre and to the particular perspective followed at the time. I also loved the small detail that the memory depictions move, but only very subtly, even when they are not being addressed or focused on to show that our memories are moving and changing when we do not realise. It’s a powerful note to hit but, similarly to the other hard hitting themes in this play’s narrative, it is not said too obviously and it is conveyed for the audience with just the right amount of subtlety.
As a student currently studying Medical Humanities I was personally very happy at the medical aspects which featured as part of the realist aspects of the narrative. Particularly in relation to Miss Marple, I think that having her more indisposed than the audience may be used to adds to the believability but also spark of her character in that she is still going to do what she thinks needs to be done no matter what. I love that this play sensitively works in both serious and more commonplace issues which re equally deserving of the audience’s attention.
Richard Kent’s set design is so brilliant to work with Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting design to highlight the importance of boarders and teetering on the edge so that you never really know who is listening in. It’s so supple that throughout this production it serves multiple purposes but each of them just as ingenious as the next. Without giving too much away I also want to mention the final closing staging and last moments of both Act One and Act Two. They are so shocking, dramatic and genuinely quite scary that they instantly became my favourite parts of the play. These moments are so haunting that I recommend that anyone interested in the technical and design aspects of theatre to go and see this production if even just for these moments.
Personally, I could not find a single weak link in this production and even now knowing the ending I would watch it over and over again. Rachel Wagstaff and the creative team behind this have created the best murder mystery play I have seen. For that reason I’m giving it five stars. It is running at Cardiff’s New Theatre until the 6th of April and I would highly recommend that you book your tickets here.