Miss Christie would have approved

The Secret Adversary - on at The Devonshire Park Theatre until April 4. SUS-150104-130845001
The Secret Adversary - on at The Devonshire Park Theatre until April 4. SUS-150104-130845001

Love your Agatha Christie, but you thought you’d read them all? Overdosed, perhaps, on Marple and Poirot? Then head for the Devonshire Park Theatre this week, where The Secret Adversary is deliciously different.

When theatre stops taking risks, it dies. Plenty of formulaic Christie adaptations – probably too many – have creaked their way around the circuit over the years. At worst, they may turn into a sort of stage Cluedo.

This show, in contrast, is never risk-averse. Sarah Punshon’s adaptation and direction has a freshness and impertinence that casts aside the formula.

There is frantic action, cracking music, and even a few magic tricks, all within a lovingly created 1920s framework.

No attention to detail is spared in costume and set design. And wherever dialogue and characterisation do lean towards cliché, it is all knowingly done.

Miss Christie, you sense, is out there observing, and she would approve. There are little nods of homage, right down to a subtle phrase of the Poirot theme tune from the saxophone at one point.

Tommy and Tuppence are an utterly improbable pair of detectives. Looking merely for a spot of adventure, they are pitched into a battle to save the Nation, the Empire and Civilisation as we know it.

The plot is daft, occasionally bewildering, but a perfectly good vehicle for the stylish, tongue-in-cheek playing.

Garmon Rhys and Emerald O’Hanrahan as the young leads are an absolute delight, totally engaging, and sparking off each other.

They have a trio of strong male support from Morgan Philpott, Kieran Buckeridge and Nigel Lister – all deftly doubling a range of parts with ease.

Not too many productions require an actor to play both a dusky night club singer and a bearded Bolshevik, but the outstanding Elizabeth Marsh does it – and several other parts in between.

Likewise Sophie Scott, smart and enigmatic by turns in other female roles.

The actor-musicianship is accomplished, following the twists of action with alternating breeziness and comic menace, although once or twice a touch too strident against the dialogue.

No reservations? Is it just a bit incongruous, taking what might have been a serious John Buchan-style tale of Empire and dipping it in flippancy?

Well, remember that The 39 Steps was itself reborn in that madcap, skeltering West End production, and this one has similar tempo and panache. And yes, it works a treat!