Coming to Kings Theatre, Southsea | Actress Lin Blakley discovers what made Agatha Christie tick
There can’t be many people who aren’t at least a little familiar with the fictional creations of Dame Agatha Christie, such as Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.
But how much do we really know about the woman behind so many of the 20th century’s greatest murder mysteries?
Murder, Margaret and Me tells the story of an unlikely friendship between famed actress Margaret Rutherford, who became the first to portray Miss Marple on screen, and the Queen of Crime herself.
Lin Blakley has stepped into the shoes of Agatha Christie for the UK tour of Philip Meeks’ critically acclaimed play. The cast also includes Sarah Parks as Margaret Rutherford, and Gilly Tompkins as the Spinster.
When Lin’s agent gave her the play to read, the actress was hooked.
‘I thought, “Oh my goodness, I've got to do this play. I've got to do this.
‘And they wanted me to be Agatha, which, if you look, you can get the “normal” stuff about when she was born, when she died, where she was buried, did she have children, etc, and how many novels she wrote, but not a lot about the woman herself.
‘But I've got to know her. I've got to know her because of Philip’s writing. And I did find a radio interview that her grandson had put on YouTube and I could listen to her voice.’
Lin is full of praise for her co-star too.
‘Sarah Parks is absolutely brilliant. She's absolutely got Margaret Rutherford down to a T. She studied her in her films and in any of her TV appearances, so she's really got her little nuances and all her little habits and she's excellent.’
The two’s friendship had a rocky beginning. Rutherford was reluctant to play Miss Marple, and Dame Agatha publicly said she didn’t think the actress was right for the part.
‘Their friendship didn’t have the greatest of starts,’ says Lin, ‘but through their lives, they were the best of friends and it was wonderful how their relationship and their friendship developed.’
The biggest challenge for Lin has been creating the role of the writer.
‘Obviously with Margaret being on the screen and on stage, everyone knows her, her face and her voice very well. So I say Agatha Christie is her creations. We all know Miss Marple. We know all the others, but we don't really know her.
‘It's funny though, because I was talking about it to Philip and he said to me: “Ah, but you are her now. You are Agatha, and you were from the very first day.”
‘But I really do feel I am Agatha Christie. I really feel I’m her reincarnated. I really feel quite close to her now.’
And how has she found taking on the mantle of the second biggest writer in history after Shakespeare?
‘It's quite incredible. And as I've said, that I really feel as though I've got her, I've got her mind. It's an old cliche, but I'd love to meet her now, and I would love her to say: “My god. You've got me.”
‘It’s quite amazing how this woman works. And she was the first one of her ilk, wasn't she? She was the first one ever, and now there are so many crime writers that are women - and a lot of them are gruesome!’
A quick look at Lin’s acting CV is deceptive. Her first film role was in 2004’s Football Factory, and she’s worked steadily since in film, TV and on stage.
But she actually got her Equity card back in the 1960s. However, she married Alan Blakley of popstars The Tremeloes in 1969, and they stayed together until he died of cancer in 1996.
‘We wanted children, and he was off on tour all the time, so I thought, well, I'll be having the children, I'll be the one at home looking after them.’
As their two daughters grew up, Lin began to dabble again in acting, initially in local am-dram groups.
‘And then, my darling husband, bless him, he got terribly ill and he died. And he said before he died: “You’ve got to go back properly. Promise me that you'll get an agent again. You'll go back out there”, and that was the start of it really.’
Lin is probably best known these days for her role as undertaker’s wife Pam Coker in EastEnders. She joined in 2014, and although she left in 2016 after racking up a few meaty storylines, has made the occasional reappearance.
‘I never thought I'd be in a soap purely for the fact that they won't want me. I had an audition with three or four other ladies that were quite known in the business. And I thought, well, there's no chance, but I’m just going to enjoy this.
‘But Julia Crampsie, the head of casting for the BBC, and Dominic Treadwell-Collins, who at that time was the executive for EastEnders, they chose me and I'm forever grateful because I have so enjoyed myself being Pam Coker.
‘I pop back every now and again, which is great. I hope they forever have me going in and out! I think they're the hardest working actors in the business as far as actors go, and I'm thankful to the great British public for warming to Pam and letting me be in their homes every now and again.’
MURDER, MARGARET & ME, Kings Theatre, Southsea, November 4-9. kingsportsmouth.co.uk