Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Curtain Up by Julius Green

The sub-title of Julius Green's Curtain Up is "Agatha Christie: a life in theatre", and this tells you clearly what the book is all about. Green starts as he means to go on: "This is the story of the most successful female playwright of all time. She also wrote some books." Yes, he's talking about Dame Agatha, the Queen of Crime, and he argues plausibly that "the significance of her contribution to theatre has been largely overlooked by historians."

I've seen several Christie plays over the years, although by no means all of them. I was especially interested to read here a very full account of the genesis of Fiddlers Five, which I went to see when it was on tour in Manchester. It was a birthday treat, and the cast included Colin Bean, who used to play Private Sponge in Dad's Army. The play can't, sadly, be described as a great success, and Christie later refined it into Fiddlers Three. By then, however, she was past her best as both a crime writer and as a playwright..I learned from Green (amongst many other things) that the play was originally called This Mortal Coil, and he reminded me that the tour was led by veteran actor-manager James Grant Anderson.

There is a wealth of detail in this extensively researched book. Again, I found myself especially intrigued by the parts where Green expanded my own knowledge of subjects I find interesting - such as Agatha's involvement with Frank Vosper. I also loved learning more about little-known apprentice works such as Eugenia and Eugenics. My impression is that Green is keener on the theatre than on detective fiction generally, but he makes telling points about the plotting of the plays, as well as discussing various adaptations by the likes of the prolific crime writer Gerald Verner.

One of the first points Green makes about his approach to his subject is a technical one: "As a reader I dislike footnotes and endnotes and find them an annoyance,but as a researcher I find it helpful when writers cite their sources." He explains that his method has been to offer a compromise, with sources mentioned in a website rather than in a book. There are various ways of tackling this dilemma (which is a very real one) and I dealt with it differently in The Golden Age of Murder, because my aims were different, but Green's method seems to me well suited to his material and his concerns. I'm delighted to have a copy of this book in my library, and I'm sure I'll refer to it again and again.

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