By Marilyn Lester
There’s a reason that interactive theater productions and murder-mystery weekends are enduringly popular––they’re great fun! In that spirit, actor Prudence Wright Holmes (no relation to Sherlock) has written, performs in and leads the hilarity in this highly participatory crime-solving comedy, Agatha is Missing. The piece is based on the real-life (and still largely unsolved) 1926 case of the disappearance of mystery writer Agatha Christie––and as the somewhat dotty, but very clever Ace Detective Miss Clarissa Marbles of Scotland Yard (a play on Christie’s detective character, Miss Marple), she’s determined to catch the culprit responsible. Holmes is a hoot and a half and then some as she launches Marbles into detection mode. No audience member is spared as Holmes/Marbles tries to sort out the clues and solve the crime.
Inhabiting her character with gusto, Holmes is quick to set the tone of the evening: we, the audience, are actually players in the drama, citizens of Berkshire and acquaintances of Christie who may or may not have been responsible for her disappearance or, Heaven forbid, her murder––a possibility heavily leaned on by Marbles. Gathered in the Berkshire Town Hall to be interrogated, Marbles, with intuition, the powers of deduction and array of props, grills the suspects. Like the game of Clue, she muses, was it the chemist with poison, the cook with the knife, the neighbor with the golf club or the victim’s husband with the gun? Ballots with possible solutions are collected from the audience (the winner collects a “lovely prize” at the end!). But, in the spirit of many whodunits and riveting mysteries, there’s a twist ending––and it’s a perfect surprise.
Holmes debuted Agatha Is Missing in June 2015 at The Secret Theatre Solo Festival and has been playing Miss Marbles intermittently since. She’s solidly based her work on the actual facts of Christie’s disappearance. Briefly, the author left her home in Berkshire shortly after 9:30 PM on December 3, 1926 and vanished into the night. Her abandoned car was soon found but there was no trace of Agatha. A massive manhunt ensued. Eleven days later, a musician in a Harrogate hotel recognized her and called the police. Christie returned home and never spoke of those eleven days, leaving her biographers to speculate on the truth of her disappearance.
Holmes cleverly parses the story, with wit and comedy flowing liberally throughout. Keeping track of all the moving parts of the presentation is a wonderment to behold, especially in remembering the many audience members she’s chosen to play the suspects (most of whom who are called to the stage). Participants, as they will, exhibit a full range of abilities in playing their parts. Holmes is ready for them. Her skill in stepping out of the set script into improvisation is seamless. The sum total of this wackiness is a fast-paced, hilarious sixty minutes of fun-filled entertainment. For anyone who loves murder mysteries, whodunits and just having a good time, Agatha Is Missing is just the ticket.
Agatha Is Missing is part of the 59E59 East to Edinburgh series. It plays through July 24 before heading again to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where it sold out last year.