The Secret Adversary – Review

The Secret Adversary

I don’t know. You wait 22 years for the revival of Agatha Christie’s young sleuths, Tommy and Tuppence, and then two productions come along at almost the same time.

But while the David Walliams’ TV version is yet to air Christie fans can enjoy the pair’s stage debut in The Secret Adversary which is making a whistle-stop tour of the UK.

It opened last night (Tuesday) at Northampton’s Royal & Derngate but is only there until Thursday before the crimefighters take their murder mystery to Ipswich.

The Secret Adversary is a ripping yarn from Watermill Productions and, in particular co-adaptors Sarah Punshon (who is a bit of a Christie buff) and Johann Hari.

It’s all jolly good fun (goodness knows what Monsieur Poirot and Miss Marple would make of it) and incredibly engaging.

Thankfully the story has been given an inspired and imaginative reboot that finds it bordering, at times, on a farce but, in general, terribly entertaining.

If you dig deep enough there’s the original story but now it’s bright, refreshing, and a super way to spend a couple of hours.

It’s 1920 and our two young adventurers are home from the Somme and unemployed. They bump into each other in a rather dodgy nightclub and minutes later are handed the fate of a nation.

Confronted by a sinister man demanding to know her identity, in a moment of desperation and recklessness, Miss Prudence Cowley, known to her friends as Tuppence, blurts out the first name that comes into her head.

By an amazing coincidence the fictitious name just happens to be the real name of a woman being hunted by the British government.

The Secret Adversary with L to R Garmon Rhys, Morgan Philpott (background), Emerald O

Sensing the game is on Tuppence volunteers herself and young Tommy (not the sharpest blade in the box but heroic under fire) to find the mysterious woman and save Blighty from industrial unrest and revolution.

It’s all terribly silly. If only they’d used their little grey cells they would have sussed her identity – and that of the evil “Secret Adversary” plotting Britain’s downfall – in moments..but then we wouldn’t have had much of a play.

The Boy’s Own plotting is rudimentary, and the characters are out of central casting, but they’re all devilishly charming.

What makes this stand out from other Christie thrillers is the high comic element and the inclusion of music. The hard-working ensemble cast of five not only play a variety of characters but they also play instruments and give the show moments of cabaret.

We even have some sleight of hand and magic tricks from Morgan Philpott who seemed to pop up as a different character in every scene. He even gave the audience a quick recap before the start of Act Two.

Only Emerald O’Hanrahan (Emma Grundy in The Archers) as the effervescent Tuppence, and Garmon Rhys as her sidekick Tommy, remain in their leading roles.

And jolly good they are too. Full of youthful exuberance and naivety, they blunder through an outrageously ridiculous story that relies entirely on co-incidence.

It is pure escapism, featuring spies, an evil megalomaniac bent on world dominance, nasty Russians, traitors, an American billionaire (who seemingly loves his cousin – is that allowed?) and, at its heart, two champions of truth, justice and integrity. Typical Agatha Christie heroes.

The statuesque Elizabeth Marsh, all razor-cut cheekbones and endless legs, makes a wonderful Mata Hari nightclub singer while Kieran Buckeridge and Nigel Lister busy themselves with thugs, Yanks, government types and playing the piano.

Only Sophie Scott, as Annette feels a little underused. She spends most of the production in the ad hoc band and in the background before coming to the fore after the interval.

Tom Rogers’ clever set is put to full use, doubling as a seedy Soho lair, a nightclub, and the Ritz.

A jolly good show that has successfully reinvented a 90-year-old story and made it a sparkling spy thriller to delight modern audiences.

Playing on the Royal stage until Thursday.

★★★★ stars

2015 Tour dates

March 31-April 4, Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne
April 7-11, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich
April 14-18, Derby Theatre
April 28- May 2, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry
May 5-9, Rose Theatre, Kingston.

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