Playwright Agatha Christie is celebrated

Find out whodunit at Christie Fest

Modern audiences can explore classic crime fiction, mystery and plot twists at Christie Fest.

From Feb. 8 to 26, Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre will host their 17th annual playwright festival. Each year’s event highlights a different artist. 

“This year, we selected our second female playwright to be recognized and one of the most popular playwrights of all time, Agatha Christie,” Chuck McEwen, executive producer of the festival, says.

While McEwen says there is no specific definition for a master playwright, the artists chosen do have some things in common.

“Usually it’s those playwrights that have amassed a significant body of work, that have had an established track record of artistic and critical success, that have possibly influenced future generations of playwrights, have left a lasting legacy in the artform,” he says.

Jack Bumsted, resident Christie expert at Whodunit Mystery Bookstore, calls Christie a fine writer and a pioneer of the mystery and crime fiction genres. 

Christie managed to build a large body of work – about 70 separate titles – with a slow and steady pace throughout her long life, Bumsted says.

“There were other writers that had a lot more production than she did. She was not particularly a fast writer. She just wrote all the time,” he says.

Though Christie is only the second woman to be showcased in the festival, McEwen says she was chosen for her artistic merit, not her gender.

“Regardless of her being a female playwright, she obviously created or helped master a specific style of play,” he says. 

Gender never seemed to factor into Christie’s level of popularity, Bumsted says. And she led the way for others.

“She was the pioneer female crime fiction writer, but she was joined by a lot of others very quickly. There were a whole bunch of them in the 1920s,” Bumsted says.

According to Bumsted, Christie was masterful with misdirection and surprising plot twists.

“She was an absolute genius at red herrings and hiding the importance of information,” he says. 

A modern audience may see Christie’s work as more fun than when it was originally introduced, Bumsted says. 

“They were treated as serious dramatic works. They weren’t treated as larks or objects of fun. I suspect that we’d laugh a lot more in a Christie play today than we would have 50 years ago,” he says. “But you still can be taken into the story in a Christie play. That hasn’t changed.”

McEwen agrees that Christie’s work explores timeless themes. Characters are often in situations where they become suspicious of those around them, even those who once seemed harmless and trustworthy, he says.

“That’s probably what keeps people coming back. You’re drawn into this suspense, this psychological moment where you go ‘why?’ You’re trying to figure out along with the characters,” he says.

McEwen says many of Christie’s plays feature seemingly average characters who are thrown into a situation where everyone's a suspect. 

Audiences of all ages can feel the tension, he says, because Christie plays show them anyone is capable of anything depending on the circumstance.

For a complete list of shows, visit royalmtc.ca.

Published in Volume 71, Number 17 of The Uniter (January 26, 2017)

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