Monday 20th to Saturday 25th October
Agatha Christie Theatre Company
Alright, I will admit it. Agatha Christie is, for me, a guilty pleasure. All the glamour, complicated plots, period costumes: I defy anyone to watch or read a Poirot or Miss Marple and not be entertained for an hour or two. With this in mind, I went to see ‘Murder on Air’ at The Cambridge Arts Theatre expecting the same warm glow of murderous fuzziness. It is then unsurprising that I was, unfortunately, disappointed.
‘Murder on Air’ is a production of three of Christie’s radio plays by the official Agatha Christie Theatre Company. Radio plays, when they are done well, can be startinglingly brilliant: you see an actor standing on stage, speaking in to a microphone, change character merely through the flash of inflection or accent, rather than through the encumbrance of costume, props and set. In many ways, it is a freeing, more experimental medium: you watch the actors turn the pages of their scripts, or the sound-effects man scampering among his props – slamming a fake door, blowing a train whistle, or pouring water in to cups for the sound of tea. In this respect, ‘Murder on Air’ was genuinely exciting, actors making the sounds of a steam train in their old-fashioned microphones or morphing from one character to the next, while the plays were interestingly interspersed with original 1930s BBC recordings.
However, even through such devices the production just did not capture the world, the glamour it was attempting to portray. The brilliance of Christie perhaps relies too much on expensive TV stage-sets, or the imaginative distance of reading. The three plays, ‘Personal Call’, ‘Yellow Iris’ and ‘Butter in a Lordly Dish’ were entertaining to watch, but fell all too easily into melodrama and poor acting, all of Christie’s stereotypes and clichés becoming glaringly obvious. ‘Yellow Iris’ was particularly cringe-worthy, with a Poirot played by Nicky Henson in an accent that seemed to amalgamate RP with American-Californian, the line ‘Zer iz zomething ere very curiouse’ delivered with a groan-inducing hamminess, that reminded me more of an episode of ‘Allo Allo’ than Christie’s inimitable Belgian detective.
However, the audience, the median age of about sixty, seemed to like it. Overall, ‘Murder on Air’ took few risks, and reminded me instead of what they wanted to achieve, a rather boring Radio 4 play on a Saturday afternoon. However, unlike the real radio, you cannot turn ‘Murder on Air’ off.