A Murder Is Announced by Agatha Christie adapted by Leslie Darbon
11th, 12th and 13th January 2024

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Cast        Production Team
Letitia Blacklock Jean Cooper   Director Christian Mortimer
Julia Simmons Fiona Delves   Production Assistant Cathy Naylor
Dora Bunner Cathy Naylor   Stage Manager Martin Howarth
Patrick Simmons Phil Preston   Properties Val Jones,
Mitzi Dolly Howlett   Backstage assistants Lizzy Lunch, Sekai Mulwandi
Miss Marple Sylvia Zilesnick   Continuity Jenny Skinner
Phillipa Haymes Meg Larmour   Wardrobe Liz Adams
Clara Swettenham Liz Adams   Set Design Lee Kenneth
Edmund Swettenham Dan Thomas   Set Construction LADS
Rudi Scherz Lee Kenneth   Lighting design Terry Tew
Inspector Craddock Dean Bartholomew   Sound/Lighting Operation Sarah Biggs
Sergeant Mellors Martin Howarth   Sound Design Andrew Rogers
      Programme & Poster Design Howard Platt
      Production Photos Howard Platt

Society : Loughton Amateur Dramatic Society
Production : A Murder Is Announced
Date : 11th January 2024
Venue : Lopping Hall
Report by : Paul Daynes

As an enthusiastic Agatha Christie fan, I was delighted to see LADS second play in their centenary
season was to be A Murder is Announced. Agatha Christie plays have been a staple of amateur theatre
for much of the time LADS have been performing and their popularity was evidenced by the sold out
run of this production, Agatha certainly pulls in the punters.

There is a cosy expectation with Agatha. Her stories are often set in comfy rural middle England where
traditional values and politeness shine but where revenge attacks, greed, poisoning and stabbing are
also common place. Perhaps it’s that intriguing contrast that keeps Agatha being read and watched.

Set and Props

The set for A Murder is Announced looked glorious as it oozed late 1940s Chipping Cleghorn and
displayed the familiar LADS attention to detail. Full marks to Lee Kenneth for a terrific design. The
teal and cream colouring looked rich and wealthy, the impressive fireplace made for a fine drawing
room and the details, such as the light switch and door handles, showed care in getting it as authentic as
possible. The furniture was in period with a lovely telephone table and chair. The line of the walls was
interesting and underlined the original two rooms with the front bay window. The hall side walls were
blacked out which, with the black stage front and black pelmet made for a framed screen of the stage,
much like an old television screen.

I was surprised that the chair line was so far back on the stage which meant most of the dialogue was
delivered 2/3rds upstage. Was this to keep the chairs behind the fireplace? I’m not sure this worked for
reasons I’ll explore later. Could the fireplace and the telephone table have been swapped enabling the
chairs to be a few feet further downstage?

The props supplied and gathered by Val Jones and Alice Smith were so very important in this play. The
purple Devon violets - dead and alive, the impressive pearls that hid a significant clue. coffee cups with
real coffee and milk. The shepherdess lamps (where did you get those?), real chocolate cake with an
enormous birthday candle. We had post-war presents such as apples, honey and handkerchiefs as well
as a period photo album and aged envelopes. Great attention to detail.


Again, the attention to detail in the costumes was exceptional as Liz Adams excelled in the wardrobe
department, ensuring everything was of the period. I particularly noticed Miss Marple’s black hat and
matching gloves, all of Julia’s clothes but especially the black patterned A-line dress and the vivid
green skirt, Edmund’s jacket and complementing waistcoat and Clara’s mustard coloured coat. Hats
were worn for outdoor wear and changes were made for the different days in different scenes. A
tremendous piece of work, well done.
Be inspired by amateur theatre


The play seemed to be acted in a distinctive style which I assume was by design rather than accident.
We were transported to the late 1940s with everyone appropriately well-spoken with a pointedness and
exaggeration that was classy and reminded me of a Noel Coward production.

There was good discipline from the ensemble when the attention focused on a couple of the characters.
Everyone else was still and listening with no distractions. Examples were in Act 1 Sc3 when Lettie was
explaining the background and later when Phillipa had her turn. This was admirable and echoed the
audience who were also listening and learning as the plot unfolded.

The blackout murder scene was superb with the chaos of screams, shouts and confusion. The torch light
and the new voice of Rudi Scherz heard over the panic and fright made for a memorable highlight. The
contrast of pace against the previous calm atmosphere worked well. When the lights came back up, we
were treated to a great picture of the actors gathered over the body and the end of Sc 2.

As previously mentioned, I was surprised to see the chair line so far upstage. This resulted in much of
the dialogue being delivered from those positions and the actors needing to project a bit more, which
wasn’t always evident. It also took the intimate duologues away from the audience. When two or three
actors entered together through the door it was a bit of a squash behind the large chair. There was more
room when the scenes were played downstage and the actors were able to move around but as so much
of the play was seated it meant the actors were a fair way away from the audience.

There were moments of comedy such as Craddock’s question ‘Is she always like this? and the response
from all was an underplayed nodding yes. Also, the reaction to the toy gun that fired pieces of potato.

The attempted stabbing of Miss Marple could have been more convincing. With better timing
Craddock could have reached Letitia as her arm was poised about to plunge with full force into her
victim. Instead, Jean was a little hesitant, waiting for Dean and the horror of a live death on stage was
less believable. Generally, fights and violent scenes are much more realistic on the professional stage,
perhaps something for amateurs to consider.


Letitia Blacklock

Jean Cooper gave an excellent performance as Lettie (or Lottie). She was in control of the play for
much of the opening scenes with her smiling hostess act that welcomed everyone into her home. This
contrasted well with the anger and fury we saw displayed first in Sc 2 but then again in full force later
in the play. Lettie had a number of the longer explanations that provided the audience with context and
background clues, such as the Randal story or the hotel with Rudi. These aren’t easy to convey, but
Jean did a good job at delivering the all-important messages.

The iodine scar on Lettie’s neck could have been made more obvious when the necklace was removed.
The neck scar was covered by Jean’s hand and rather than stand face onto the audience, Lettie moved
around and was mainly side on to the audience. It was a visual moment that got slightly lost.

The slightly confused and possibly guilty look on Letitia’s face in Act 2 Sc 3 when Edmund runs out
was one of disbelief and a lovely touch. Her anger and ranting were in good contrast to Miss Marple’s
calm and unruffled demeanour.

Julia Simmons
Fiona Delves picked up the style of the play well with pointed stock middle-class delivery. It made for
a confident performance and leant itself to the deception that Julia was playing. Her reaction to ‘The
Announcement’ was exaggerated and brought her ‘jolly hockey sticks’ character to the fore. The little
silent smiley chats between Julia and Patrick early on suggested there was more between them than met
the eye and we saw the hand clenchers later referred to by Miss M.

Dora Bunner
Cathy Naylor was almost unrecognisable as Bunny in that thick grey wig. Her costumes were smart but
dowdy and Cathy adopted a noticeable awkward way of sitting with knees slightly apart, as opposed to
the other ladies who demurely kept their feet together when seated. Bunny’s exaggerated and often
funny delivery made her a little different and someone that needed Letitia’s care. Trying to remember
the titles of the books and the polite disappointment at receiving handkerchiefs for a birthday present
were funny. Her penchant to always tell the truth was endearing and comic. It was a good observation
of a middle-aged spinster who was dependent on the kindness of others.

Patrick Simmons
Patrick is one of those shallow characters that Christie churned out in abundance. Apart from being a
bit drippy, Phil Preston didn’t have much to get his teeth into in this part. His diction and volume were
good and he and Julia made a handsome pair. Patrick was the sort of chap that could meet a girl and go
along with her story rather easily. I liked the way he was seated for the interviews with Craddock and
Miss Marple thus taking away the height differences that could have been awkward.

Dolly Howlett plays the eccentric larger than life characters with humour and a style all of her own.
They are a great addition to the plays and with Mitzi we saw Dolly at her comic best. It was such a
bizarre character with a unplaceable accent, who would never have held down a job in this house but a
welcome contrast to the uptight others. I’m glad Christian allowed Dolly to take Mitzi into the farcical
sphere, it was fun.

Miss Marple
Sylvia Zilesnick was the quintessential Miss Marple in looks, style and character. This was a lovely
portrayal of the calm and considered Miss Marple that takes every turn and tribulation in her stride.
Sylvia moved only when required, such as a deliberate walk to the vase or to address someone, it was
most efficient. As was her line delivery that appeared considered, clear and well-paced. The final line
at the end of Act 1 Sc1, “Who is going to be murdered?”, was delivered straight out front then went
into a freeze with dimmed lights and was just right in its stock Whodunnit? style.
I liked the way that Miss Marple often remained in the background listening and observing and then,
when ready, she stepped down stage into the discussions with an “excuse me Inspector”. Miss Marple
and the Inspector then became the demon duo sleuths.

Phillipa Haymes
Phillipa was another of this cast of fine speakers with great diction. As well as being a good character
actor, Meg Lamour had the most wonderful speaking voice, just right for this style. Phillipa moved
around the stage with the grace of a dancer and you just knew there was more to her than we were
seeing. Phillipa was the obvious Pip but only Miss M worked that out. A good performance from
possibly a new LADS member.

Edmund Swettenham
The left-wing political radical didn’t have too much opportunity to be developed and is rather brushed
over in this version. Dan Thomas did well with little to work on. He was rather more animated than
others when called upon to contribute but played the part convincingly.

Mrs Swettenham
Liz Adams captured the rather nosey Mrs Swettenham who didn’t want to miss out on the invitation.
She was more concerned about what her son Edmund would say or do and became an interesting
someone from the village. Again, lovely diction and delivery of lines, Clara added another dimension
to the story.

Inspector Craddock
The God fearing, intelligent Inspector Craddock was wonderfully played by Dean Bartholomew who is
always a joy to watch on stage. Dressed in a smart sharp suit with neatly cut hair and heavy rimmed
glasses, he looked the part. The choice of placing him with a Welsh Accent was terrific and added to
the part superbly. I imagined a back story of a strong Presbyterian ex-Welsh guard, a military man now
giving his civic duty to the constabulary. It also made me laugh, as I couldn’t get Uncle Bryn from
Gavin and Stacey out of my head. Craddock was in charge, gathering facts and information from the
assembled characters. His sniffs and gestures, glasses cleaning and punctuated delivery of lines were all
small details that made for an interesting and distinctive portrayal that gave depth which wasn’t
necessarily on the page. This was really good work that made for an excellent performance. Well done.

Sergeant Mellors
Martin Howarth gave an arresting performance as Sergeant Mellors, I thank you!

Sound and Lighting

Andrew Rogers found some delightful pieces of music as incidentals between scenes. Mainly light and
country afternoonish but with the occasional menace and intrigue that all fitted the Miss Marple style.
I did think the sound effects of the clock and the telephone too loud. It may have been that they were
played through the PA speakers and into the hall. Could the sound have come from a speaker offstage
in the wings or even had the PA volume turned down.
The lighting design did its job with the blackout scene working very well. There was no spill from
lights off stage and the timing of this most important lighting cue was spot on!


I really enjoyed this performance of a good play. It showed strong acting in a subtle but effective style
that gave much that Agatha would have been delighted with. It was true to the story and period written
in the late 1940s. A fantastic set, costumes and props list that showed LADS admirable attention to

Paul Daynes
NODA Regional Representative London District 6