Forget everything you ever knew about Agatha Christie…
That’s the easiest way to prepare for this adaptation of Partners in Crime, which opens not in a quiet drawing room but rather with a cabaret-style song and dance number. From there it hurtles into two hours of storytelling, music and magic, which stays – perhaps surprisingly – faithful to the book’s characters and plot.
Set shortly after the First World War, the play follows two old friends, Tommy and Tuppence, who meet unexpectedly in London and decide to solve their mutual poverty by solving mysteries as ‘The Young Adventurers’.
Mystery descends sooner than they think, and soon they are embroiled in a dangerous affair concerning a missing treaty that could put the very stability of England in jeopardy. There are, of course, parallels with the current geopolitical situation – Russia in particular – not to mention Brexit and free trade deals. Rather than make heavy handed work of these, however, the audience is left to mull this over for themselves.
The play manages to get around Christie’s complexity partly through clever visual trickery, which is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the production. The audience is, for example, treated to Tommy’s perspective as he spies through keyholes and peers through windows.
The other way it deals with the plot’s twists and turns is through exposition, which is largely done by the masterful Morgan Philpott, who inhabits a variety of roles throughout and manages to steal the scene with every one.
There are only eight actors-slash-musicians in the whole production, which does sadly mean that some of the musical numbers lose their vibrancy and precision. Otherwise, however, it suits the compact set, designed to resemble a 1920s London nightclub, and emphasises the enigmatic nature of the show.
Naomi Sheldon acquits herself well as the plucky Tuppence, gamely romping through a challenging variety of scenes. Elsewhere Richard Holt’s Tommy aims for stiff upper lip but ends up just stiff, and Nigel Lister’s Sir James borders on the pantomime character. The adaptation has sacrificed suspense for comedy and action, making this a very family friendly performance.
Overall this is an enjoyable performance and for those who are fans of the Patrick Barlow adaptation of the 39 Steps, you will be in for a real treat.