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Theatre Review: Murder, Margaret & Me

By Julia Parry | 24th February 2017

Christie (McAuliffe) and Rutherford (Blake)

Christie (McAuliffe) and Rutherford (Blake) (c) One&Other Creative

Murder, Margaret and Me - written by Philip Meeks and directed by Damian Cruden - brings to the stage the fact-based unlikely relationship between Agatha Christie (Nichola McAuliffe) and Margaret Rutherford (Susie Blake).

By the early 1960s Rutherford was a national treasure, being one of Britain’s best loved comedy actors. Christie was fiercely protective and possessive of her favourite character Miss Marple and had specific ideas of who should bring her to life on the big screen - Margaret Rutherford was in her mind definitely not that person.

The play is narrated by a third woman played by Andrina Carroll, ambiguously called The Spinster. She is evidently the Miss Marple of Christie’s imagination and speaks to both women during the production, linking the narrative of each scene perfectly.

Margaret Rutherford is also reluctant to become embroiled in the sordidity of a murder mystery, concerned as she is about her reputation as a comic actor. Christie soon becomes suspicious and establishes that there is more to Margaret’s reluctance than she is letting on. Both characters have secrets more sordid and painful than can ever be known to the press or their multitude of loyal fans.

The three actors involved play their roles to perfection, swiftly jumping from hysterically funny comedic lines into a depth of pathos and insecurity which is all masterfully done. As the story unfolds, the set design by by Dawn Allsopp is almost continuously moving with the narrative though never distracting from the actors.

Susie Blake is a revelation as Margaret Rutherford. Her costume and mannerisms are superb, the facial expressions she finds are uncanny. She shows a vulnerability in a character who is obviously attempting to hide her dark secret with comedy and eccentricity. Nichola McAuliffe is a commanding Agatha Christie, portraying a woman at the pinnacle of a long career, apparently controlling her own destiny. Again, her deep sadness is also brilliantly hidden by comedy and pomposity. The gossip, one liners and blatent name dropping is a joy to watch, both actors revelling in their own roles and obviously enjoying each other’s immense talent.

With the assistance of Carroll’s excellently timed and judged Spinster character, these two huge stars of their time eventually grow to trust each other and get to reveal their true selves to one another, a deep understanding and friendship developing. Between them they are instrumental in the most successful British film franchise ever produced at the time. The fact that two septuagenarian women were at its heart is all the more remarkable.

This production forms part of a year-long programme of work put together by an all-female panel which aims to redress the imbalance in women’s roles in both theatrical work and the industry as a whole. York Theatre Royal have yet again created a production of great quality, entertainment and enjoyment. Surely Murder, Margaret and Me is worthy of a West End run…

Showing at York Theatre Royal until 4 March. Click the button below to book tickets now.

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