Where is Mrs. Christie? She’s at a party drinking double cream fending off tiresome newspapermen still enquiring over those eleven days. The new one-woman show written and directed by Chris Jaeger with Liz Grand – senior actor with the Worcester Repertory Company – playing the best-selling mystery writer opens in 1957 as Agatha receives a begrudgingly congratulatory note from Noel Coward on her success with The Mousetrap’s record-breaking run.
The audience are taken on a detailed autobiographical journey of Agatha’s life as she sits with ankles crossed recalling all that led up to the events of 1926. An episode in her life dubbed her own real life mystery that created widespread media interest the likes of which had never been seen before: and would continue to haunt her throughout her life.
The abandoned Morris Cowley – her pride and joy bought with a highly lucrative book advance – car found by the Surrey beauty spot, rumours of an affair, the husband Archibald Christie being constantly dragged in for questioning, it had all the elements of one of her hugely popular detective stories.
Like most people I knew about the missing eleven days but I’d never really grasped what had happened. I think I do now, and it is not really a mystery after all. Here is a woman with a philandering husband who after a blazing row decides to give him a taste of his own medicine and decides quite deliberately to ‘disappear’. She actually writes a note to her own brother-in-law with clues as to her whereabouts, so that Archie will eventually find her.
The furore over her disappearance was perhaps to be expected and it is fair to say ‘Mrs. Christie’ as the recordings of BBC news bulletins interspersed throughout the piece, constantly refer to her as, revels and delights in all the consternation she is causing. She was, as she conspiratorially informs us, quite well living under an assumed name – the name of her husband’s mistress – at a very fashionable well-to-do spa hotel in Harrogate. She simply wanted Archie to suffer, seems fair enough to me, he was a cad and a bounder and he put her down about her weight: I dare say her fondness for double cream won’t have helped.
Appearances can be deceptive, despite on the surface being the most popular detective fiction author of the day, behind the scenes Agatha Christie is desperately lonely. Her marriage to the dashing airman is essentially over, her young daughter worships her father and lets her know in no uncertain terms, and then her dear mother dies suddenly. It is quite possible she wasn’t thinking straight, under a lot of stress, grieving over her mother to whom she was very close. And let’s face it he was a cad, practicing his golf swing with Nancy Neele right under her nose.
What is rather fun with this play is to look at the way the country reacted in 1926, ably aided and abetted by the newspapers publishing all manner of sensational stories surrounding the disappearance, and then comparing it to the post-truth world of today. Even back then folk would much rather reach for the fiction, even finding so-called clues from the pages of her novels, rather than being satisfied with the irrefutable facts.
Where is Mrs. Christie? is a gentle sunday afternoon drama, I was hoping for a bit more intrigue some blood on the carpet: the discovery of a body or two would have spiced it up. Liz Grand has a definite look of Agatha. I can quite see her slipping into a fashionable Harrogate hotel, blending into the background and quietly observing the guests.