Margaret Rutherford and Agatha Christie explored in Southsea show
A childhood love of Margaret Rutherford lies behind Murder, Margaret & Me which tours to Southsea’s Kings Theatre from Monday to Saturday, November 4-9.
Playwright Philip Meeks puts Rutherford together with Agatha Christie (whose Miss Marple she so famously played) for a story of friendship, identity and the achievement of women in the long-lost world of the silver screen.
“I had always loved Margaret Rutherford,” Philip says. “There were two people I loved the most as a child, Jon Pertwee as Doctor Who and Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple. I was so young I probably thought they were the same person. But seeing Margaret Rutherford on the TV in the afternoon if I was off sick from school was just as comforting as seeing the cellophane around the bottle of Lucozade.
“I think I just loved the absolute sincerity of everything that she did. There was just something about her. I absolutely loved my gran, and here was Margaret Rutherford, this old woman who was being the hero. I just totally loved it.
“And then I discovered Agatha Christie and I started reading all the books. The two of them, Margaret and Agatha, just joined together in my mind. And I started reading everything I could about Margaret Rutherford. I read her ghost-written autobiography and there was also a very sensational book about her. And I knew there was something terrible that had happened in her past.
“One Sunday night, when I was living in Leeds, I found an old Sunday supplement and I found details of this crime that had happened before Rutherford was even born, involving her father killing her grandfather in a ridiculous manner. He murdered him with a chamber pot, and he was sent to Broadmoor. They said he was terribly ill and then he was cured. He changed the name to Rutherford and then he went to start a new life in India where Margaret was born.”
To write the play, Philip wanted to find a way into Margaret’s “secret”. Matching her up with Dame Agatha, whose creation she embodied, was the key: “It is a story about friendship. It is also a story about lost language.
“They both spoke like Victorian ladies. And it is also a story about identity and secrets.
“Margaret Rutherford had originally said she didn’t want to do Miss Marple because she didn’t want to be attached to anything sordid and she had her reputation to protect. She hated the concept of murder and violence, but she was going to lose her house because of the taxman and so she had to do it. This was bigger than the Bond franchise which was just starting. This was huge. It was the first time that serious American money had been poured into a British film franchise. They got paid a fortune to do it. And it made Margaret Rutherford even more famous. If she had not done Miss Marple, we would not be talking about her now…”
Dame Agatha hit back: “Agatha Christie gave a statement to The Times saying she is ‘not Miss Marple in the way I imagined her.’”
But the two became friends… at least in the tale as Philip tells it.
“I think they both had sadness.
“There were so many parallels between them. But this is not a conventional play. It is an entertainment in many ways.”
They deliver Agatha and Margaret’s guide to marriage.”
“People talk about the play as being a comedy thriller, but it is not that at all. It is a play with a mystery at its heart. I just became fascinated by these two women and the struggles that they had.”