In Her Defence, theSpace on North Bridge, Review

Helen Saxton and Pete Watt - In Her Defence
Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Dead Herring
Helen Saxton (writer), Pete Watt (director), Melanie Watt (stage manager), Evie and James Watt (assistant stage manager)
Helen Saxton (Catherine Mackinder/ WPC Alice Jones/Mrs Croft), Pete Watt (Philip Mackinder/ Ridgeway KC).
Running time

“I specialise in murders of quiet, domestic interest.” Agatha Christie

‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’ was first published in 1920 and a century on, Agatha Christie is still the world’s best-selling crime fiction writer while her play ‘The Mousetrap’ holds the record as the longest running show on stage.    

The popularity of ‘cosy crime’ is back on the best seller list with novels such as Richard Osman’s “The Thursday Murder Club’ and ‘Murder before Evensong’ by Richard Cole, - very much Miss Marple territory except these are in the present day.  

Nothing beats the classic Christie period atmosphere. In homage to the Queen of Crime, Helen Saxton has meticulously crafted this good old fashioned murder mystery drama.  The shocking opening scene takes us directly to the courtroom at the Old Bailey in March 1948 where we learn that ‘Philip Mackinder, a schoolmaster aged 48, has been killed in cold blood with a single pistol shot in the heart.’

This is no plot spoiler – we know from the start that Catherine has murdered her husband but how can she get away it.?

With clear stage directions given, the date is now April 1947 at the Mackinder’s flat in Regent’s Park, London, well designed with vintage black telephone, cigarettes, whisky decanter and a coat stand for hats, jackets, barrister’s wig and gown.  Catherine wears a smart green dress with neatly pinned-up hair - it’s their 10th wedding anniversary but instead of a romantic dinner, Philip has announced he is going away for a few days to the seaside. Alone.

The action moves back and forward between the matrimonial home and the trial at the Old Bailey, where Ridgeway KC continues to interrogate various witnesses for the Prosecution.  We hear that Philip was a war hero having served in Burma but returned home physically and mentally changed.  ‘Does this give Mrs Mackinder the right to kill him?’

The audience observes the proceedings from the point of view of the jury creating a tense and immersive style of drama – here is all the first hand evidence from a policewoman and the housekeeper of their holiday home, Barnard Lodge, Bexhill on Sea.

T. S Eliot was a great fan of crime fiction and deemed that ‘the character and motives of the protagonist should be normal such that we should have a sporting chance to solve the mystery ourselves.’   There are several references to Agatha Christie’s novels in the script which we are invited to identify; as with all her convoluted plots peppered with red herrings, the clues here too are hidden in plain sight. 

Portraying not only the murderer and the victim, Helen Saxton and Peter Watt also slip seamlessly into other roles, swapping hats and coats, accents and tone of voice with polished precision.

Two small quibbles - poor sight lines from some seats stage left, and it seems odd that the pistol has a police evidence tag - before the murder takes place.

The ending is so brilliantly clever it matches the dastardly denouement of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (voted ‘best crime novel ever written’ CWA) and the unexpected culprit in The Mousetrap.   Agatha Christie would certainly enjoy this ingenious puzzle of a plot to plan the perfect murder of ‘quiet domestic interest.’ 

Showtimes:  22–27 August 2022 @ 13:25

Ticket prices: £10.00, (concessions £8.00)

Suitability: 12+  – contains gunshot sound effects and scenes of death

Note: 'In Her Defence' won an award for Best Original play at the Oxfordshire Drama Festival 2022. Helen Saxton now plans to publish the text to allow small scale professional and amateur companies to perform this play. See website for more details about bookings, productions and tours.