Agatha killed the radio star

Jenny Seagrove and Tom Conti in Murder on Air, Theatre Royal Brighton – picture by Darren Bell

Jenny Seagrove and Tom Conti in Murder on Air, Theatre Royal Brighton – picture by Darren Bell

First published in The Guide by

MURDER ON AIR

Theatre Royal Brighton, New Road, Monday, September 1, to Saturday, September 6

AGATHA Christie is best known for her murder mystery novels, and her stage plays including the West End behemoth The Mousetrap. But the prolific writer also penned a total of 23 radio plays throughout her career – a trio of which are being presented by The Official Agatha Christie Company in a facsimile of a 1950s live broadcast.

“We wanted the audience to see the actors arrive in evening dress to do the broadcast as if they were seeing the script for the first time,” says director Joe Harmston, who has added fake news broadcasts and an onstage sound effects artist to the experience.

The core company has been augmented with a pair of guests for each date on the tour.

Heading south to Brighton will be Tom Conti and Jenny Seagrove, who will play a variety of roles across the three plays.

“We chose roles which could show our leading actors in different lights,” says Harmston.

“The last play, Butter In A Lordly Dish, is probably the most natural casting for Jenny and Tom. In The Yellow Iris Jenny plays someone in her 20s, and Tom has the opportunity to give us his Poirot.”

Similarly Harmston deliberately chose three half-hour shows which are very different in character.

“Everything is reduced down to a sharp clarity,” he says.

“The way you know about the characters and the actions of the characters is like a distilled spirit – a sharp and clear taste. Audiences are very adept at taking in huge quantities of story information very quickly.

“It's just like vintage radio comedies like Hancock's Half Hour or The Men From The Ministry, they are wonderful half-hour stories which are as complete, detailed and interesting as a full-length drama.”

The focus of the show is towards the audience listening at home on their wireless – which should mean there is little visual stimulus as the actors line up in front of the microphones.

But Harmston says there is still more than meets the eye.

“In some ways it's actually very difficult to rehearse,” he says. “It's tricky for the cast to get their heads around the technicalities and the timing – there's a great deal of choreography in the way the actors move about the stage. It's not just coming in and standing still – although the performance is still quite static.

“The actors are creating reality for the listeners, so they don't look at each other and the relationships on stage don't change.”

He believes a lot of the delight for the audience comes from seeing the artifice being created – particularly with the foley artist who creates the sound effects.

“I'm fascinated by the skill of foley artists,” he says. “Even today in the digital age they still find rubbing together two bits of cardboard will make the sound of a tractor going through wet mud.

“The audience get the sense they are seeing things they shouldn't be seeing. It adds several layers to the show.”

Starts 7.45pm, 2.30pm matinees Thurs and Sat, tickets from £10. Call 08448 717650.

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