Go Back For Murder

Go Back For Murder
By Agatha Christie. Therry Dramatic Society. Arts Theatre, Adelaide. February 7 – 16, 2019

Therry are well regarded as providers of varied, quality theatre designed to entertain both a loyal membership audience and the general public. Agatha Christie murder mysteries are renowned as crowd pleasers and it was Therry that successfully won the Australian rights for The Mousetrap, also directed by veteran Director, Norm Caddick, in 2011. It must be noted, however, that all Agatha Christies are not created equal.

Published in 1942, Go Back for Murder is an interesting take on a traditional murder mystery. The action moves between the present in the story, the 1950’s, to the late 1930’s and back, examining the danger of relying on personal testimony that may be shaped by time, prejudice and perception. By studying each suspect’s testimony, and the various inconsistencies between them, the drama arrives at a disturbing and terrible truth. But let’s not introduce a ‘spoiler’ here.

Originally published as the book Five Little Pigs, it included the detective, Hercule Poirot. In 1960, Christie adapted the book into a play, Go Back For Murder, but edited Poirot out. His function is filled by young lawyer, Justin Fogg,played by Simon Lancione in this production. Fogg is also the son of the lawyer who led the accused murderer, Caroline Crale's defence. Poirot traditionally had the capacity to focus the action, and by removing Poirot from this story Christie has created a narrative that is complex and challenging for the actors and the audience in terms of keeping track.

After receiving a letter from beyond the grave, Carla Crale, who has spent the intervening years in Canada,believes her dead mother was wrongly convicted of her father’s murder.Carla consults Fogg and they embark on some sleuthing, discovering that, on the day of the murder, there were five other people at the house – the ‘five little pigs’ of Christie’s original novel.

In a passionate attempt to clear her mother’s name, Carla persuades those present on the day of her father’s death to return to the scene of the crime and ‘go back’ 16 years to recount their version of events. These characters include Angela Warren, who is now a distinguished budding archaeologist. Lani Gerbi as Angela is believable in the adult role, but less so as the teenager.

Lady Elsa Melksham is played by Zanny Edhouse while the retired governess, Miss Williams, is played by Heather Riley. Edhouse is glamorous and appropriately cynical in Act One.As the young Elsa, her histrionics make her a less compelling and sympathetic character.

In flashback in the second act, we meet Steve Bills, as Amyas Crale, a self-centred womanising artist. He convinces the audience that he may be misunderstood, but that does not save him from becoming the murder victim.

The other male characters are less significant, other than possibly providing the appropriate ‘red herrings’ that we all so enjoy in Agatha Christie’s work.

Aptly, the opening curtain is red and opens to reveal a single-level set that creates three separately lit playing areas used for Act One. The set and lighting are functional, but each playing area looks very similar and the style features of the period are not particularly evident. Act Two takes the audience back in time to the scene of the crime, in the west of England and visually, the courtyard creates interest and is well used as the artist’s working area.

One of the joys of a Christie play is being immersed in the look of the period, and whilst this production gives a nod to the look of the early 1950’s, the second Act, set some 16 years earlier, does not reflect the time effectively.  There is a particular challenge for Chanelle Le Roux, who has to move between eras and characters quickly, playing both Carla and her mother, Caroline. Hairstyles in the main do not, for most, support the characterisation.

Le Roux, Zanny Edhouse as Lady Melksham, and Lancione in the key ‘leading man’ role of solicitor Justin Fogg, capture the clipped upper class English accent well, others less so and less consistently.

If you are an Agatha Christie fan this is one less often performed. For murder mystery fans it has the much-anticipated interesting twist that you will enjoy.

Jude Hines 

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