REVIEW: A Murder is Announced – at the Festival Theatre, Malvern, from Wednesday, September 2 to Saturday, September 5, 2015.

WHODUNNITS, particularly those from the Agatha Christie stable, usually bring in the crowds - and appreciative ones at that, when they arrive in Malvern.

And when they happen to also be a Miss Marple mystery the anticipation is heightened.

So it was a touch disappointing to see the opening night production of its UK tour miss the mark by quite some way.

When a murder - as the title suggests - is announced in the local morning newspaper, even giving the time and place, it ought to provide a real buzz but although this is a solid and somewhat competent performance it fails to thrill as much as it might. No one’s pulse is set racing - not even when the pace picks up post-interval as Miss Marple deftly picks her way through the clues and sidesteps the inevitable red herrings.

Judy Cornwell’s portrayal of the ageing super-sharp sleuth is quite low-key, almost too understated and lacking her anticipated eccentricities. Passable but no more.

However, the action is enlivened by Lydia Piechowiak’s outrageous Mitzi and her unlikely tales of escaping the clutches of the Russian authorities and Tom Butcher’s forceful, no-nonsense Inspector Craddock.

Sarah Thomas, who played Glenda for 25 years in Last of the Summer Wine, was also in good form as the slightly dotty Bunny Bunner along with Diane Fletcher’s Letitia Blacklock, owner of Little Paddocks, the crime scene in Chipping Cleghorn.

Leslie Darbon’s stage adaptation of this post-war tale is deliberately and faithfully old fashioned but the dramatic screws do need to be tightened and more daring to make the most of the finely crafted twists and turns in Christie’s plot.