You can’t go wrong with Agatha Christie. Well I suppose you could. But not if you are the Genesian Theatre Company. This is their metier. A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED is gripping, stylish entertainment. Adapted by Leslie Darbon, the play is from 1987 but it retains all the period elements that audiences require of a Christie Mystery. The Genesians have assembled an excellent cast, put them on a lovely set and costumed them superbly.

A unusual notice has been put in the village paper of the small English spa town of Chipping Cleghorn. It announces a murder will be committed at ‘Little Paddocks’ on Friday evening at 6:30. The household see it as rather a joke but neighbours and villagers are sure to drop by around about then. And no one is going to keep a certain Miss Jane Marple, in the village to take the waters for her rheumatism, away from the possibility of a delicious mystery.

And delicious it is. Owing much to  the way the climax has been adapted by the playwright who has wisely removed some of the novel’s more hysterical events such as an attempted drowning in the kitchen sink and the Snugglepuss redolent, Miss Murgatroyd: yet kept the period flavour which is required to keep Miss M in her place and time.

Director John Grinson has guided his cast into the arch just short of caricature. The accents show no slippage, they move and smoke and drink tea with British drawing room manners and I especially loved the way he has them give no hint of the dastardly until the reveal.

Owner of ‘Little Paddocks’ is Letitia Blacklock. Suzann James gives a cracker performance. She commands the stage and she is the ultimate hostess, greeting her guests with aplomb and keeping her unruly guests civil. She is compassionate, charitable and warm.

Brother and sister, Julia and Patrick Simmons (Molly Haddon and Anthony King) have a lovely sniping relationship and each turns in a fine individual performance. Haddon hurls herself onto sofas and into chairs with languid insouciant decorativeness and King, standing astride, has the charming arrogance of a junior master of the house.

Point-perfect characterisation too from Jess Davis as Mitzi and Ros Richards as Bunny. Davis does an excellent job of keeping Mitzy as comic relief without being overtly comic. She has truth in the character and that is what makes her every entrance and her histrionics so entertaining. Overdone, Mitzy would be jarring and irritating.

As would the rapidly declining Bunny. Richards dithers convincingly to inspire the compassion and sympathy for Bunny that the story requires.

Inspector Craddock carries much of the story’s exposition as he spends a great deal of time asking questions and Peter Allison handles that dialogue well. He was a bit stiff on opening night and didn’t yet have  the warmth of relationship with Miss Marple that an audience might expect, Allison is sure to improve as the run continues.

The show, however, rests on how well we accept the busybody amateur sleuth. Sandra Bass is a really terrific Miss Marple. She is tweedy and homey but alert, aware and constantly re-focusing her attention as the solution assembles itself in her mind. She pats people and looks kindly and sees the clues in every interaction. It really is hard to look away even though, until the climax, she has very few lines. You want to see what she sees because you know that all these suspects are hiding something and at least one has done the dastardly deed.

It’s a big cast and Grinston has guided his 12 characters smoothly around the stage. It never looks forced or cluttered and this is due in no small part to the excellent set design by Rachael Giuffre.. The set is perfect for the period and has, as the script suggests, “The whole effect is of simple elegance. Not merely something to look at, although pleasing to the eye- it is something to be lived in.” The set is elegant and the detail of drapes and cushions and wainscoting of the fireplace allow an audience to simply accept the period, thereby accepting the behaviours, speech and mores of the characters inhabiting it.

Giuffre is also responsible for the costume design and what a delight. The detail is so enjoyable. From the unusual hemline shape of Letitia Blacklock’s first purple skirt, through the white frilled petticoats of the black taffeta dress and the detail of the sweet broderie anglaise collars, to Bunny’s brown and rose cardigan. It’s not overstating to say that costumes make or break period pieces.

The audio choices and the lighting cues are designed to herald the actions, foreground events and provide the darkness on which the suspense thrives. The music is well chosen to give a terrific theatricality to the onstage action. The interval music became a bit of a singalong with Nat King Cole in my row. The lighting was not to my taste, the pink and the floor lanterns which serve only to mask actors especially, but that is a small aspect of a cohesive production.

Solve it if you can as the mystery compounds, A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED is a whodunit to be savoured.

A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED continues at the Genesian Theatre Company until 24th June.