Verdict on Agatha Christie

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Barnham-based theatre director Joe Harmston admits that it is still infuriating, but he’s certainly seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

For the past six years, Joe in close collaboration with Agatha Christie’s estate, has been directing an annual Agatha Christie to increasing acclaim.

This year’s play - Verdict, Theatre Royal Brighton, July 18-23 - has perhaps received the best critical response yet.

And yet there are still far too many prejudices, far too many people unwilling to consider the possibility that Agatha Christie is a fascinating serious playwright who knows her craft and has plenty to say.

“It’s a slow process. I am still astonished at the number of directors and agents that won’t come to see their clients in Christie. It drives me to distinction.”

And sadly there’s disappointment close to home: “Yet again, it’s worth saying that we are very disappointed not to be coming to Chichester with this. The door just remains firmly shut.”

Joe maintains his Christie would be a starry addition to the autumn season at the CFT each year. He brought his production of And Then There Were None there a few years ago; but sadly there’s been no invitation back: “It’s insane especially when we have been having sell-outs. You would think it would be a commercial decision.”

Instead, it seems, Chichester area Christie fans will have to continue to travel to the surrounding theatres - with this latest production particularly worth seeing.

Joe is at pains that it is definitely a whodunit. Much more interestingly, it’s a whydunnit - and one that Christie handles brilliantly.

One of the achievements, Joe feels, of the six shows to date is to remind people that there is no such thing as “a Christie”; each has been strikingly different.

“I am so pleased with this production. It is a really tense piece of drama. You know whodunit, but the fascinating thing is what leads to it and what leads from it.”

The cast includes Emmerdale’s Susan Penhaligon, Robert Duncan (Drop the Dead Donkey), Peter Byrne (Dixon of Dock Green), Elizabeth Power (EastEnders) and 60s pop idol Mark Wynter.

The brilliant Professor Hendryk leads a content and morally upstanding life, but his world is turned upside-down when the prospect of life-saving treatment for his invalid wife persuades him to take on a new pupil against his better judgement; the spoilt, conniving minx Helen who will stop at nothing to get her way.

With murderous intentions afoot, it only remains to be seen what verdict will be delivered, and if justice will prevail.