Agatha Christie… who was she really? Famed for her murders (in print, of course) and in particular for two of the most famous literary creations in history – Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple – her name is known the world over. But who was she? It is this question that is at the heart of Murder, Margaret & Me, a fantastic, funny, dark, heart-breaking play by Philip Meeks.
Although the main story of the play revolves around two legends meeting, slowly becoming friends, and unravelling one another’s secrets, it begins with Agatha Christie. It has to. She, after all, made it all happen. Yet at this point in her career she has become ‘a brand’. She is losing her name (and herself) thanks to the demands of the tax man, and it scares her. It is forcing her agree to making her beloved Miss Marple into a motion picture, heaven forfend, and – worse still – rather than the birdlike, diminutive Miss Marple of her imagination, it is screen legend Margaret Rutherford, a large and loud lady known for her eccentricity and comedic turns, who is taking on the role (albeit reluctantly – murder is, after all, a sordid business). Why is she doing it? The tax man, of course.
So this is the set up of Murder, Margaret & Me. Two older women forced to become colleagues due to money, both doing something they never thought they would.
And then comes the murder. And the mystery. And, perhaps inevitably, Jane Marple is on the scene. Literally. She hovers over everything, never quite explained, a figment of both women’s imaginations perhaps, and it is in ‘The Spinster’ that they finally agree. They both know what Marple should be like, what she would say, how she would look, and it could indeed be this spectre at the feast (a gentile one who misses nothing and knows everything) that brings them together, pushes them apart, and then makes them friends once more.
Both women have a secret, you see, and neither wants the other to know about it. The difference between them is that Margaret Rutherford is quite happy to know nothing of what happened when Agatha Christie disappeared for 11 days in 1926, whereas Christie is unable to let go of the mystery surrounding Rutherford’s family and its dark past.
I know a lot about Agatha Christie. I have read the books, seen the films, the plays, the television series… so a lot of what was revealed about her was no surprise (although very nicely done; Lin Blakley does the famous writer justice), but I had no clue about Margaret Rutherford other than she played Miss Marple and that Christie wasn’t overly impressed with the idea at the start. Now, thanks to the play and to Sarah Parks’ impeccable performance, I want to know more. Much more. How could this legend of stage and screen, this tragic heroine in real life, have passed me by? This is the power of Murder, Margaret & Me – it has opened up new worlds and I have to explore them now.
Special mention must also go to The Spinster (who needs no introduction) who manipulates and pushes and pulls our two ladies in the direction they are meant to go in. Played by Gilly Tompkins, she is the Miss Marple we all know and love.
See Murder, Margaret & Me at The Churchill Theatre, Bromley, until 28th September: https://churchilltheatre.co.uk/Online/tickets-murder-margaret-me-bromley-2019