IF you go to an Agatha Christie play you pretty much know what you’re going to get: one dimensional characters,
IF you go to an Agatha Christie play you pretty much know what you’re going to get: one dimensional characters, a convoluted plot where everyone has a motive and a bunch of posh people gathered in an even posher country house. So Go Back For Murder at the Oxford Playhouse this week won’t let you down.
The Agatha Christie Theatre Company is devoted to producing the great dame’s work and Go Back For Murder is this year’s effort. This play was first produced more than 50 years ago and although it nods to the social revolution of the Sixties with sexual licentiousness it still hails from an earlier time.
Frankly, it looks its age and even older. Dame Agatha may have created her own genre with her simple storytelling and uncomplicated characters, but things have moved on since those days. The cast is packed with people who were once famous on TV — Sophie Ward, Gary Mavers, Robert Duncan and Lysette Anthony give it their all — and it’s true that the second act is light years ahead of the first because they are finally allowed to perform.
Or at least some of them are. Gary Mavers and Ms Anthony manage to make their characters have three dimensions despite the dialogue.
But we take a long time getting there with a first act which is all tell and almost no show — a stream of interviews with stilted characters. Sophie Ward’s Canadian adoptee, Carla Le Marchant, returns to England to prove her mother innocent of the murder of her father. Her mother is also dead, just to add another problem.
Anyway, we arrive at the end with the usual mustering in the big house as everyone blames one another, then an obvious murderer is singled out, only to give way to the real one a few minutes later.
This stuff might have worked in a simpler age when people didn’t question plots or characterisations, but these days we can see it done much better every week on TV, and we’re used to that. The Poirot and Marple TV programmes are spiced up with character, Midsomer Murders is nothing if not Poirot with added zest, and the same goes for Morse and Lewis, both of which use the same technique of fingering the wrong murderer before nailing the right one.
As for Death in Paradise, that’s Miss Marple in the Carribbean right down to the gathering and dénouement at the end — again with the wrong character fingered before the correct killer is found. The point is we expect something more than these creaking old plays give us.
That said, I accept that there were a lot of people in the audience who had no problem with that, which probably makes me a pretentious fusspot.
Continues to Saturday. Box office: 01865 305305 or www.oxfordplayhouse.com