Christie In Love

“Dark dissection of mass murderer.”
Anna Marks, Remote Goat ★★★★

Tea with Christie
Substance & Shadow have found a winner – and a perfect vehicle for three of their acting stable – Midge Mullin (Christie), Nathan Simpson (the Inspector) and Sam Pike (the Constable). They also found a great theatrical space for the show – a cellar bar in a city pub. Christie in Love is one of Howard Brenton’s earliest plays – one of the ‘poor theatre’ pieces, highly portable plays requiring minimal space, sets, props, costumes etc. With these plays, Brenton believed bad theatrical conditions could actually be positive. This production showed that in spades.

Spades of course being germane to the plot. The play opens with a helmeted constable digging and digging and digging. Brenton wanted this play to be performed slowly and this production has been faithful to that. The pacing is superb and it works. The repetitive litany at the start summarising Christie’s life and crimes is horribly chilling and builds the tension beautifully. Only to be broken by recitation of some truly ugly verse. Pike’s performance in setting up the piece is pretty much flawless.

It is almost fifty years since Howard Brenton wrote Christie in Love and more than sixty since the events at 10 Rillington Place on which it is based and the play does feel like a period piece. Nowadays work questioning the probity of the police and critical of establishment norms is commonplace, even expected. This play was written to shock. Yet, half a century on the content is no more shocking than your average soap and the language widespread on post nine o’clock tv. So why did Substance & Shadow choose to put on this play?

The answer probably lies in the opportunities to deliver brilliantly crafted lines and stunningly insightful characterisation. Christie in Love is a master class in the art of concise punchy writing. This cast and crew have dug deeply into the themes and meaning of the play and delivered a production that would definitely put a smile onto Brenton’s face. Midge Mullin’s sad, suffering and devious Christie is an excellent piece of acting and Nathan Simpson’s Inspector’s veneer of civilisation coating darker depths is masterly. Pike gives a good constable and handles the mannequin like a second skin.

So – it’s dark, gritty and full of twists – even the title contains multilayered messages. Worth seeing.

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