City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Murder, Marple and Me Review

By Vivien Devlin - Posted on 12 August 2012

Janet Prince
Show details
Gilded Balloon Productions, Karen Koren
Running time: 
Phillip Meeks (writer), Stella Duffy (director),
Janet Prince

Margaret Rutherford was an extraordinary English character actress, renowned for energetic, feisty roles,  excelling in classic comedies. Who can forget her outrageous Madame Arcati, the rather batty medium, in Blithe Spirit, with 1,997 stage performances and in the charming film. Noel Coward remarked that she was “dazzlingly funny”. It was the greatest comic performance of her career.

The cramped but well-designed set in the Gilded Balloon’s Wee Room, features a dressing table, armchair, standard lamp and tea trolley, drawing together a film set and cosy living room. Margaret (aka Peggy) slowly unpacks personal possessions, her Oscar statuette, (for her role as the Duchess of Brighton, in the VIPs in 1963), and a photograph of her beloved husband, Stringer “Tuft” Davis.  Then she sits centre stage to tell us her story.

Dressed in tweed skirt and silk blouse, her long grey hair pinned up in a bun, Janet Prince epitomises Rutherford’s  jolly, boisterous personality. She describes key moments of her career, focussing on the role of Miss Jane Marple, the amateur sleuth, and thereby, a growing relationship with the crime writer Agatha Christie.

It was a surprise to both actress and writer that Rutherford should be asked to play the quietly reserved spinster, Miss Marple. Christie was concerned that her typical comedic style was unsuitable, while Margaret perceived murder stories to be too sordid.

The first encounter between Margaret and Agatha is charmingly described by Ms Prince as a nerve wracking event at Elstree studios: aware of Christie’s concerns over the miscasting, she wanted the writer’s approval but the cautious meeting gradually led to mutual admiration.  The two strong minded women were in fact remarkably alike, around the same age, professionally ambitious and both later honoured as Dames of the British Empire.

Due to the popularity of Margaret's rather zany portrayal of Marple, in her flapping cape and hats (she wore her own clothes for the role), there were four Marple movies. Also co-starring her husband, the plots often veered away from the original crime novels.

A sequence of incidents from her career are in turn related from the point of view of Margaret, Jane and Agatha, but occasionally the quick switch of character is a tad clumsy and confusing.

The anecdotes are light hearted and rich in self deprecating humour – she knew with her buxom figure, jowly face and double chins, she would never play a glamorous lady.  Her public persona was bright and breezy on stage and screen, but privately she was consumed by tragic events in her childhood which caused severe bouts of depression.

Behind the laughter, (even joking about serious financial problems for Stringer and herself), there lingers a dark sadness in the eyes, as the truth of family scandal is revealed due to Christie’s personal detective work.

This is a gentle, genteel dramatic sketch which colourfully illustrates Peggy’s lovable, eccentric nature and quiet vulnerability, perceptively created by Janet Prince with genuine compassion and affection.

Show times: 1 – 26 August.   Not 13 and 20.    1515 daily.

Ticket prices: £ 10..50, £9.50 (£8.50).