“And who do you think was murdered next?” asked Miss Marple (Alev Gunay), posing her question to the audience. An immediate response rose from the crowd, which was now well acquainted with the improvisational structure of the show. Marple then named “Peter,” based on the audience’s wishes. Leaving the stage with puppy-dog eyes and thrown-up arms, “Peter” met his fate as the show went on, the storyline morphing outrageously and hilariously around this extra twist.
From Jan. 16 to Jan. 26, Synergy Theater presented “Spontaneous Agatha Christie: An Improvised Miss Marple Murder!” Presenting a show that never has the same plot, the same jokes or the same twists, Synergy Theater performed with experienced grace and enthusiastic humor. Agatha Christie is the world’s best-selling novelist, according to her website, and her featured detective Miss Marple is extremely well known. Therefore, the play’s original twist on this beloved material was both highly commendable and refreshing.
Housed in an intimate venue, the audience members were closely positioned to both the stage and to each other. The prominent placement of tea and Victorian-era furniture embodied an atmosphere of classic English culture. Notably, the stage was on the floor of the venue, allowing close proximity between the actors and their audience.
This proximity was essential from the start of the performance, when Miss Marple — an enthusiastic woman with a strangely exaggerated English accent — introduced herself to the audience. Marple announced that a murder had occurred, with the rest of the cast filing in. Freezing in place, Marple interjected, as she would many times throughout, to ask the audience which characters were meeting in secret. Once she had accepted the first answer called out, Marple allowed the show to proceed.
The skills of the improvisers were all equally commendable, though uniquely oriented, with each person bringing their own versions of quick-witted humor to their performances. The performer playing “Phillip” was one of the most savory acts of the show. His profession, at the audience’s suggestion, was a mime. His flawless French accent and ingenious mime humor made for some of the best moments of the night.
Similarly, the performer playing “Andre,” whose wife and mistress would be murdered over the course of the night, seemed to bounce between moments of ever-growing hilarity. Adopting strange characteristics that varied from tattooing women’s names all over his body to wishing for two things, a parrot and a hare — adapting “hare” from the audience’s suggestion of “hair” — Andre was as quick-witted as he was believable. And considering the character that the audience constructed for him, realism seemed almost impossible.
A common theme of female empowerment was expressed by the female performers of the show, as their characters discussed owning their bodies, claiming their right to a career and expressing their sexuality. A drastic difference from what would have been written in Christie’s day, the cast took it upon themselves to reflect the rights that women have gained, while using the show’s comedic tone to demonstrate the absurdity that such rights were ever in question.
Overall, the improvised nature of the show engaged the audience in a new and original way. Rather than sitting separate from the stage and watching a scripted and rehearsed show, the audience members themselves were in control of their experience. This meant, however, that when suggestions were cliché or poorly thought out, they lacked the comedy and impact that more developed ideas created. Therefore, the show contained both spontaneous genius and disappointing flops.
As the performance progressed, the storyline became more and more convoluted. Taxidermy, satanic cults and even necromancy became major themes, and it seemed improbable that Marple would be able to bring it all together. But she did. As Marple declared Andre the murderer and leader of a satanic cult, the various murders were brought together.
At the play’s end, the cast bowed to tremendous applause. Announcing that they would return with “Spontaneous Shakespeare” in April, the applause resumed with equal vigor. The audience clearly looked forward to engaging once again with such skilled actors and clever comedy. A unique and lively experience, Synergy Theater’s improvisation shouldn’t be missed.
Contact Nathalie Grogan at [email protected].
A previous version of this article incorrectly named Justine Moser as the actress playing Miss Marple. In fact, Alev Gunay was the actress.
The image accompanying this article incorrectly depicted Justine Moser as Miss Marple. In fact, the article is about Alev Gunay’s performance as Miss Marple.