BBC Radio 4, 20 January - 10 February 2010
In Towards Zero Agatha Christie has her central character Thomas
Royde expound an idiosyncratic theory of murder; they begin long before they are actually perpetrated and advance
step by step toward that "zero hour." With this theory in mind, she uses the first half of the novel to set
the stage and the second to solve it.
Towards Zero was adapted into a play by Gerald Verner and Christie
herself, and premiered at the St. James Theatre in September 1956. Mary Peate's radio production disregarded this version
and went back to the original novel, focusing in particular on its convoluted plot. Nevile Strange (Hugh Bonneville) invites
his first wife Audrey (Claire Rushbrook), and his second wife Kay (Lizzy Watts), to spend the weekend at the home of his former
guardian, Lady Tresillian (Marcia Warren). As if this isn’t sufficient to make the murderous sparks fly, Thomas Royde
(Stephen Hogan) - in love with Audrey and abhorring Nevile - returns to England from a long sojourn in Malaysia and
spends the weekend with the Tresillians. The novel includes stock
characters from mid-twentieth century rural England - Lady Tresillian's devoted companion Mary Aldin (Julia Ford). Meanwhile
Kay is being pursued by would-be entrepreneur Ted Latimer (Joseph Kloska).
As with most Christie adaptations,
Peate's production twisted this way and that, interspersed with coups de theatre such as a thunderstorm, a noisy
quarrel overheard by everyone, and several deaths which may or may not be suspicious. All the characters appeared to have
something to hide; not one of them could be trusted. However they did not seem entirely in control of their lives; throughout
the production the inexorable chiming of a grandfather clock could be heard, not only signalling the inevitable onset of murder,
but suggesting that everyone's destinies had been predetermined.
As with most Christie productions, the action only really took off after
murder had been committed. Inspector Leach (Philip Fox) came on to the scene in the second episode and from then
on assumed control over the action. Predictably he managed to solve the case, and thereby demonstrating the fundamental justice
of Christie's world - all murderers are inevitably discovered.
While Towards Zero is not Christie at her best, it nonetheless
offers diverting entertainment. Trying to work out the culprit in her books is like trying to escape from a labyrinth;
if you like the challenge, then Towards Zero is for you.