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Review of The Secret Adversary at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

Poor old Tommy and Tuppence, forever playing third fiddle to the might of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. However maybe 2015 will be their breakthrough year some 93 years from their creation. There is not just this clever and fun play, but a certain David Walliams set to appear before the end of the year as Tommy Beresford to Jessica Raine's Tuppence.

However first we have this gem of a little play to contend with. Adapted by Sarah Punshon (who also directs) and Johann Hari (an interesting history himself, have a Google), from the novel of the same name, it featured at first perhaps nothing you would expect of a play based on an Agatha Christie novel. We had singing, dancing and musical instrument playing from the outset and we may all have thought that we were at a cabaret show. It soon fell somewhat back into type once the usual multi-layered Christie tale (this time involving top secret papers in the hands of a lady survivor of a ship sinking) began to evolve.

It did however remain a curious mix that perhaps you got or didn't get. I certainly got it and was more than happy to go along for the ride. Madcap, zany and just darn silly are probably on my wavelength. Rather fascinatingly my fellow Twitter reviewer @chrispoppe was somewhat less appreciative of the show and highlighted an important factor to consider. Those more knowledgeable of the source matter may not be as fond of the piece as it does apparently detract somewhat from the original Christie novel. I suspect we should compare this therefore more to the "based on" ITV Miss Marple adaptions, rather than their much more authentic Poirot interpretations.

Performances for the most part are lively and frivolous in the extreme. Mostly overplayed, as in keeping with the whole show. Emerald O'Hanrahan is at all times a playful Tuppence, capturing the earnestness that the role deserves. Elizabeth Marsh plays her two main roles heavy on comedy value, especially when she sports the facial adornments. Standout for me though is Morgan Philpott, who with his sprinkling of magic tricks and rather pompous collection of characters, invariably nearly steals every scene his is in.

Tom Rogers set design is also another little star of the show. All odd shapes and cubbyholes that offer not only a seamless multi-location environment, but some delightfully silly Keystone Cops chase sequences. Also superb are a couple of highly inventive scenes. The projection scene involving the sinking of the Lusitania is both very funny and cleverly realised. As is that wonderful keyhole scene as Tommy (Garmon Rhys) observes what the baddies are up to. There is also a curious modern musical montage scene that may not be to everyone's taste perhaps, but I suppose it worked in Moulin Rouge, so no harm done. Then we have a willy in my face joke, so all negatives are forgotten.

So we have a play that is somewhat lackadaisical with its approach to the story and one which might offend the Agatha Christie purists. For myself however, it was a two hour riot of odd and interesting entertainment, that had at all times the fun and bizarre factor high above the serious adaptation business. This will work for perhaps as many as it won't I suspect. However if you are the sort who would like to see a light espionage story, which features people playing musical instruments and occasional magic tricks, you will not leave The Secret Adversary disappointed.

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Performance reviewed: Wednesday 25th March, 2015 (matinee) at the Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton.
The Secret Adversary was at the Royal & Derngate between Tuesday 24th March, 2015 to Thursday 26th March, 2015. The play is touring until 9th May, 2015. Details are here: https://www.watermill.org.uk/agatha_christies_the_secret_adversary_on_tour

For further details about the Royal & Derngate visit their website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/

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