There is little doubt that the most successful female playwright, at least in the UK, is Agatha Christie, The Mousetrap alone ensures her status, and Witness for The Prosecution is currently enjoying a hugely successful run in London.
Her material is dated, her characters never more than two dimensional, and, for me, she is a novelist, so her plays are very heavy on exposition and tell more than they show. But never question why her work is revived, sell out audiences and large cinema and TV rating demonstrate that many people are still keen to find out who done it.
Colchester Theatre Group have chosen one of her less well-known plays to stage, and, dramatically, it creaks. But with an excellent cast and deft direction by Will Parrick, it delivers exactly what the audience want.
When Carla Le Marchant comes of age, she is given a letter that throws a new light on her mother’s, Caroline’s, conviction of murder 16 years previously, when Caroline was found guilty of poisoning her husband, Amyas Craig. Carla contrives to get the surviving witnesses and potential real murderer back to the original scene of the crime, where a second half flashback recreates the events. An adaptation of her own novel, Five Little Pigs, Christie removes Poirot, and, strangely, replaces him with dashing solicitor Justin Fogg, who acts as a sort of detective without any arresting legality.
Fogg is played remarkably well by Jay Stebbing, making a commanding stage debut and providing immense clarity to the narrative. Sarah Ellen Young gives a strong performance as Carla, and then Caroline, taking the audience through her journey with skill. Some of the actors don’t age their characters up or down easily, but Donna Potter is excellent as governess Miss Williams, using her vocal skills well to age the character. Glenn Granger has a smooth, beautiful voice engaged well as Phillip Blake, and Kirsty Bryant does well as “the other woman” Elsa, though she needed to age up Lady Malksham more. Adam Duarte Dias captured Lothario Amyas very well, Paul Reed provided excellent character work, and Leanne Howard was a joy as Angela Warren, making her quite a good suspect!
The script provides many challenges for any company, particularly the multiple locations of Act One, and it’s all heavy exposition, with Christie very fond of repeating what Carla tends to do. However, a well-rehearsed, efficient crew and an excellent set design kept the pace moving, and the second act revealed a beautiful country house. Although Christie does not chime with our times and attitudes, it is worth pointing out this 1960 play does show how women were viewed and treated, as Carla tries to find justice in a patriarchal world.