“This flamboyant and stylised performance brings a new dimension to an Agatha Christie classic…

As much a comedy as a murder mystery, this flamboyant and stylised performance brings a new dimension to an Agatha Christie classic for the 2023 DST Freshers’ play. When a murder is announced in the newspaper due to take place at 6:30pm that same day, this serves as the ‘only intimation’ for the frightening events that will unfold at Little Paddocks and the complex mystery that twines the lives of all its inhabitants together.

Director Henry Skinner truly has created a marvellous show. Through clever directing decisions, he has elevated the comedy in the script whilst leaving the dramatic integrity of the classic murder mystery intact. For example, each murder suspect is dressed in a monochrome costume, juxtaposing the naturalistic props used to create a period-typical living room.

Hats off to George Murry and Isabella Broxis for the imaginative use of lighting and sound that work seamlessly together to build tension, create comedy, and highlight important clues.  One particular success is the imaginative way each of the characters is introduced: the first time each character enters, the stage is decorated with spotlights in their signature colour, a musical motif, and a dramatic loudspeaker announcing their name. This imaginative introduction really sticks in the mind and makes all the different characters easy to remember, something that is very important with such a large cast of murder suspects.

Building from the colourful lighting and sound, the acting in this piece is highly stylised and exaggerated with characters pushed to the limits of believability to enhance the tale’s comedy. Nat Pyke as Bunny – the scatter-brained best friend of the lady of the house – is a highlight. She perfectly embodies the absent-minded old woman through her physicality, accent and vocal tone, and her anxiety – while played up for comedic effect – feels like it is genuinely portrayed. Roxy Toyne is another standout performer as Mitzi, the hot-tempered housekeeper. Her dramatic facial expressions and theatrical gestures make her especially distinctive.

Occasionally during moments of tension, such as the interrogations, it is impossible to understand what’s being said due to the number of characters shouting over one another. Clearer diction and less volume could improve the comprehensibility of this dialogue, but it does reflect the emotional tension of the moments.

This stylisation is set in sharper relief by the more naturalistic acting choices of Annabel Clancy as Miss Marple and Jude Battersby as Detective Craddock, which really allow the humour of all the characters to shine through. The rapport these actors build between their characters throughout the show feels genuine, and they play off each other perfectly to solve the mystery in a captivating manner.

Cast and crew work excellently together to create an inventive and technically intuitive performance, expertly balancing naturalism, and stylisation to create a slick and entertaining murder mystery.  It is clear that a lot of talented and inventive new faces have entered DST this year! It will be exciting to see what these Freshers get up to next, as I’m sure their future endeavours will be a treat!

By Lauley Exton

“A Murder is Announced” will continue to perform at 19:00 on Friday and Saturday the 3rd and 4th of November in the Sir Thomas Allen Assembly Rooms Theatre.

Photo Credits: Durham Student Theatre