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Rare airing for mistress-of-mystery radio plays

PUBLISHED: 13:24 04 March 2009 | UPDATED: 17:16 16 August 2010

PROLIFIC crime writer Agatha Christie penned only four radio plays, one of which formed the basis for the long-running West End show The Mousetrap, writes Mark Campbell. Last week, the Orchard Theatre in Dartford presented the other three under the title

PROLIFIC crime writer Agatha Christie penned only four radio plays, one of which formed the basis for the long-running West End show The Mousetrap, writes Mark Campbell.

Last week, the Orchard Theatre in Dartford presented the other three under the title of Murder on Air, giving many Christie fans a chance to hear these little-known tales for the first time

Personal Call has a supposedly dead woman telephoning her husband and accusing him of pushing her under a train. Contrived it may be, but it's easily the most satisfying story of the night. The Yellow Iris sees Hercule Poirot visiting a Buenos Aires nightclub. The wafer-thin plot is padded out with seemingly endless cabaret songs.

And in Butter in a Lordly Dish a philandering judge gets his comeuppance in a particularly gruesome fashion. More horror story than crime, the ending is as brutal as it is sudden.

All three were presented by the touring Agatha Christie Theatre Company as 1940s-style BBC radio plays, with the cast dressed in dinner suits and posh frocks and reading their lines from scripts.

An overworked foley artist provided live sound effects from the sidelines.

Directed by Joe Harmston, this was a surprisingly engrossing evening once you'd got used to the novelty of it all.

The sight of Alexander Bermange clinking glasses, banging doors and hammering a cabbage to extinction threatened to steal the limelight on more than one occasion.

Nicky Henson was a somewhat muted Poirot in the middle story, better as arrogant toffs in the others.

Susan Penhaligon showed little variety in her three roles, but her fruity delivery was always entertaining. Elizabeth Price made a delightful cabaret singer while Sonia Beck's vocal dexterity in a variety of eccentric roles was impressive.

Martin Fisher's locomotive impressions were spot on, while Simon Linnell and Adrian Metcalfe mined any latent comedy for all it was worth.

Although by no means Christie's finest hour-and-a-half, this was an entertaining evening of small, simple pleasures.

The next play at the Orchard Theatre is Dinnerladies by Victoria Wood from April 14-18. Tickets: 01322 220000.

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