We went behind the scenes to meet Simon Shepherd as he prepares for the brand new adaption of The Mirror Crack’d, Agatha Christie’s classic murder mystery which is about to be brought to life on stage for the very first time in Europe.
Wales Millennium Centre and Wiltshire Creative are about to present The Mirror Crack’d, a new stage adaptation of Agatha Christie’s classic Miss Marple novel, The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side. This is the first time the novel has been adapted for the stage in the English language and the thrilling new play tours the UK and Ireland this year, with a European premiere on 15th February at Salisbury Playhouse, then touring to Dublin, Cambridge and coming to Cardiff 26th March – 6th April.
Why did you get involved with The Mirror Crack’d?
It was a combination of factors. I’ve worked with Melly Still, the director, before and she’s great. She has a very original and visual style. I thought the idea of her working on an Agatha Christie story was really interesting. Then I read Rachel Wagstaff’s script and thought it was brilliant. She’s deconstructed the story so that you see the story from many points of view. You get really involved – I read it in a single sitting. So I had no hesitation at all in signing on the dotted line.
He is, and I also have a bit of personal history with him. I played Patrick Symonds in a TV adaptation of A Murder is Announced, starring Joan Hickson as Miss Marple, in the 1980s. The DI in that story is Dermot Craddock, who was played by John Castle. So it feels a bit like it’s come full circle and it’s meant to be. Also it means I get to play a policeman for the first time! Craddock is quite enigmatic because you’re never quite sure what his relationship with Miss Marple is. In the book it’s implied they might be related.
One of the characters is an actress. Do you think Christie captures the world of show-business accurately?
I think she does, albeit in a fairly heightened way. There is a streak of Sunset Boulevard in the character of Marina Gregg, a Hollywood star with an entourage. Christie shows it was a very brittle existence, especially for actresses of that generation. If you watch Feud, about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, you see how difficult life was for them as they grew older. Marina lives in a similarly gilded but quite frightening world.
Is it enjoyable playing out the ‘whodunnit’ aspect of the story?
Oh it’s hugely enjoyable. And I guarantee that unless you know the story you won’t guess it. It’s also very moving, because the motivation comes from a particularly dark place. I can’t say anything more than that but it is certainly among the most intriguing of Christie’s works.
Do you think the darkness of Agatha Christie’s writing is central to her appeal?
I think it’s the darkness juxtaposed with her observations about society. The Mirror Crack’d is set in Miss Marple’s home village St Mary Mead, and Christie very accurately portrays its upper middle class society that appears very genteel but hides a lot behind the twitching curtains. People enjoy getting that glimpse into the darker reality of people’s lives. She was really ahead of her time in many ways.
What prompted you to become an actor?
I was brought up in Stratford-upon-Avon where my father owned The Dirty Duck. It was the pub where all the RSC actors would hang out after shows and that absolutely influenced my career choice. The two things my parents didn’t want me and my brother to do were acting and hospitality. So of course I became and actor and he owned a restaurant!
You must have some amazing childhood memories?
It’s funny because like all children, your childhood is normal to you. So for me there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary about it. One thing that I always remember fondly is the excitement of first nights. My mum and dad would get dressed to the nines, and it was a bit like Christmas in the restaurant afterwards. The RSC crowd certainly knew how to party! I’m often asked by older actors with memories of that time ‘which brother are you?’ and I always reply ‘the little one’.
You’ve worked extensively on screen, but is theatre your spiritual home?
I really enjoy doing theatre, and while I can still remember my lines I’m going to keep doing it. There was a period of about ten years when I was filming Peak Practice that I didn’t do any theatre. When I came back to it, doing Art in the West End, I was reminded of just how much I love it. I especially like the surrogate family you form when you’re in a show. I did Hay Fever with Felicity Kendal a few years ago and the company are all still in touch. We have a reunion lunch twice a year.
Are you looking forward to going on tour?
I really am, not least to visit some new places. I’m like a child really, I love exploring new theatres and revisiting old favourites. Funnily enough my first job was Entertaining Mr Sloane at Salisbury Playhouse and I haven’t performed there since, so it will be lovely to go back.
Do you miss family?
Well the kids have mostly moved out now, they’re all grown up. None of them are actors, and I’m thrilled that they’re not! They mostly work behind the scenes. It’s lovely when we’re all together at home, near Bath, but I’m used to having a much quieter life now. And it means we can go away at any time without having to worry about school holidays and childcare and that sort of thing. I also read a lot more than I used to which is lovely.
Do you often get recognised, and if so what for?
It’s usually for Peak Practice, and I’m absolutely delighted when it happens. I was also on Celebrity Masterchef a few years ago and people quite often talk to me about that. I cut my finger quite badly and lots of people asked me if I was ok. It was very touching how concerned people were!
What sort of experience do you hope audiences will have watching The Mirror Crack’d?
Well I don’t think it’s going to be conventional tea trays and antimacassars. What I really hope is that people will come and say “I didn’t know Agatha Christie could be like that.” It’s unconventional and it’s full of surprises. I guarantee you won’t be bored.
The Mirror Crack’d tour comes to Cardiff 26th March – 6th April
New Theatre (Tickets from £13)
Box office: 029 2087 8889