Go Back for Murder (Tour - Manchester)
This play, currently visiting Manchester Opera House, won't convert any non Agatha Christie fans, says Dave Cunningham.
In adapting her novel Five Little Pigs for the stage, Agatha Christie eliminates the central character of Hercule Poirot. This isn't as barking as it sounds. The novel was an intellectual challenge but not very dramatic and, as Poirot's techniques were psychological rather than forensic, it is credible that an amateur could apply them just as well as the Belgian detective. Besides, a daughter trying to uncover the truth about here parents' deaths has greater emotional impact.
Artist Amyas Crale (Gary Mavers) and his wife and his wife Caroline (Sophie Ward, who also plays the couple's daughter) spice up their relationship and stimulate Amyas's artistic talent by creating conflict. When Amyas dies by poisoning, Caroline is convicted of his murder and dies in prison. Fifteen years later their daughter Carla receives a letter suggesting her mother was innocent, compelling her to Go Back for Murder and interview the people who were present when her father died.
This is a period piece set in the 1960s and director Joe Harmston sets the scene with jazz-tinged musical cues, including rapid handclaps and throbbing bass, and pop-art designs on mini skirts. But the nature of the material limits stylistic flourishes. The need to describe conflicting versions of the murder and offer some red herrings results in a dull first half comprising a series of conversations over tea in different rooms.
Audiences unfamiliar with the original book might struggle to keep track of the characters who are listed before we get a chance to put faces to the names. Significantly, the first act fails to offer a suitable possible candidate for a villain as, of the various characters who are introduced, only Robert Duncan gives a suggestion that he might be capable of committing violence.
The second act, which re-creates the murder, is a distinct change of pace - more dramatic, but not free from problems. Ward is more relaxed playing closer to her natural age, but Lysette Anthony gives a shrill performance as the younger version of Elsa Greer.
Annoyingly, the need for Ward to change clothes and switch characters means that the protagonist who has been investigating the mystery throughout the play does not actually get to unmask the villain.
Go Back for Murder is the tenth play produced by The Agatha Christie Theatre Company, so clearly there is an audience for the material. Whether it will attract anyone who isn't already a fan of Christie's writing is, however, doubtful.
- Dave Cunningham