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Agatha Christie - Murdered by the sound guy

Published by: Douglas McFarlane on 5th Aug 2014 | View all blogs by Douglas McFarlane
Agatha Christie - Murder on Air with Tom Conti and Jenny Seagrove.jpg

Yes it's true. Read on for a performance with a difference.

Firstly, I was excited.  As a reviewer, I don't often get time to read all the details of a performance in advance and headed off to the Richmond Theatre knowing I had to review an Agatha Christie play.  Great news, clearly a classic and as the Richmond Theatre always has a great choice of perfomances, what could go wrong ?  

When I arrived I noticed a familiar setting. There were several old style microphones in a row with spotlights on them. Some seats in the background and a table full of sound equipment that you'd normally find in a radio play. I remembered the exact setting when I performed in War Of The Worlds in Glasgow.  It was definitely exciting as a performer though I remember thinking that it may not be as exciting in the audience and working hard at my performance to give it my all and ensure it was as entertaining. This included improvising my own comedy routine with the microphone which worked well and brought the house down.  Well, got a few belly laughs anyway. 

So how was this production going to ensure a radio play captured their audiences attention ?   I was about to find out.

A nice way to engage an audience is to get on stage while they are taking their seats.  Meandering around and preparing for the radio play while treating the audience as the real audience of the radio play. Nice touch I thought. Jenny Seagrove and then Tom Conti, two well known and accomplished acting talent were the chosen guests at this performance.  Perfect.  Tom did his acting training in Glasgow, and Jenny was always on our TV's when I was a lad, so another big tick in the box.

As I settled into the first of three Agatha Christie plays, they had captured my attention.  My mind was on a journey as I took in the nuances of doing a radio play, while having the sounds played out in front of your eyes. Doors knocking, steam trains coming into a station and champagne glasses chinking at a party. All done to excellent timing and perfection.  What a delight for the ears and mind and I was enthralled.

The second of the plays came around quickly and in the first half of the performance and it kind of went downhill for the audience at that point. This was no longer a radio play, it was a musical interlude accompanying in the background. Well, it was supposed to be in the background. 

I noticed that I couldn't hear what Tom Conti and the other actors were saying.  I thought it was supposed to be like that and it would somehow resume into a normal dialogue. The audience started to get restless. Two people in front of me started to murmur. The two women next to me started to murmur louder. The audience started to get more and more agitated. Then, finally a guy stood up from a few rows behind me in the stalls and shouted out "WE CAN'T HEAR YOU OVER THE PIANO". 

Well, to have someone shouting out that loud in your play must be a nightmare.  Tom Conti was clearly startled. His part of the dialogue had conveniently come to an end.  He immediately got his composure back, and walked off stage at haste. When he came back on, he had a chat with Jenny, who was presumably wondering what was going on.  Jenny then walked off stage while Tom went back to his microphone and continued the dialogue. 

A few minutes later, the sound mixing was readjusted and the radio play continued at a normal level and the audience relaxed a little.  It had however, ruined the night.  Having missed most of the setup of the characters and storyline of the second play, it was impossible to re-connect with it.  The entire audience must've been the same and I heard a lot of chatter about it during the interval break.

I have to say, that Tom Conti did a fantastic job coping with it.  A top actor like him, taking on board audiences direct comments, and then taking action was very professional and heartwarming to see. We all felt for him, and I'm sure he must've been quite annoyed. For me, I questioned where the director was.  Why was he not in the audience. Did they have a run through prior to the performance ?  I didn't think it was the first night, but it felt like a technical rehearsal wasn't undertaken if something as basic as sound levels weren't checked.  

Another irksome thing for me, was with another accomplished actor who I won't embarass by naming and shaming. She was clearly very good at what she was doing and efficient at all the sounds she had to undertake and crisp in her delivery of dialogue with differing accents. However a basic mistake she made throughout the play was to have her script above her shoulders and practically hiding most of her face for the duration of the plays. It got worse and at one point we could see none of her face at all.

By this stage I had lost interest. I was going to walk out but persisted. Even if it was just to see what else I could find wrong with it. 

A truly remarkable performance for all the wrong reasons. Next time, get it rehearsed, get it technically checked and give the audience their money back. Tickets aren't cheap and I know a lot of people would've been thoroughly disappointed if that was their big night at the theatre with their friends and family.

As we left the auditorium, I noticed the sound guy in a box at the back with his head in his hands.  Poor guy, he knew he was heading for a tough discussion with his director. Whenever he decided to pitch up at a performance.

It's at Woking this week and Brighton next month. Go at your peril, and if you do, please remember it's not a traditional play. It's three radio plays performed  in front of you.

Review by Douglas McFarlane



  • Carolin Kopplin
    by Carolin Kopplin 4 years ago
    Very unusual for the Richmond Theatre that technical things go so wrong. Reading your review is probably a lot more entertaining than seeing the production. Hope they will get their act together.
  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 4 years ago
    Thanks, Doug. It's such a disappointment when the technical aspects of performance destroy the fantasy.
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