Go Back For Murder’s Robert Duncan on the enduring fascination with the world of Agatha Christie
In a previous literary incarnation, Go Back for Murder – the latest Agatha Christie stage play heading for Wirral – rejoiced in the rather colourful name Five Little Pigs.
“And I play one of the little pigs I suppose you could say!” reveals Robert Duncan, whose character Philip Blake, as a stockbroker, is of course the one who ‘went to market’.
“There are five suspects,” the actor explains, “and it’s an interesting one because it’s quite stylised too, which Joe (Harmston) our director has heightened a little bit, certainly towards the end.”
Carla le Marchant’s mother Caroline dies in prison while serving life for killing Carla’s father, but leaves a letter declaring her innocence, a claim her daughter is determined to pursue.
She tracks down a number of people from her mother’s past (to whit, the five little pigs) only to uncover a shocking truth.
So go on, fess up Robert Duncan, do you turn straight to the last page of the script to find out whodunit?
“We’re not talking about Chekhov here or War and Peace,” he laughs. “They don’t take a long time to read.
“But I think it’s much more interesting if you play a villain.
“And we certainly swing a couple of red herrings people’s way, and a lot haven’t guessed who the perpetrator is. So that’s a good thing.”
And he should know. Over the last few years the 60-year-old has appeared in several Christie murder mysteries staged by Bill Kenwright’s company, including Spider’s Web, Witness for the Prosecution, and the leading role in Verdict.
While the bulk of his more recent work has been on stage, he’s kept a balance in a long career with radio plays and large and small screen appearances including his celebrated role as hapless, yuppie newsroom boss Gus Hedges in Drop the Dead Donkey.
“I also the occasional drama documentary,” Robert adds. “I did one last year on the fall of Singapore with James McAvoy.”
That would have brought both strands of his background into play, with a young Robert – who started life as a local newspaper journalist – training to teach drama and history.
In recent years he’s even had a stint as a history teacher, working at a school in Luton when illness meant he had to stay close to home.
“My goodness me, it’s the toughest profession bar none,” he says admiringly. “Tough, tough, tough.”
Acting though remains his first love.
Robert grew up in Cornwall, while Agatha Christie spent her summers at Greenway, her waterfront hideaway just over the border in Devon.
She may have been dead almost 40 years, but her legend endures.
“It’s a fascinating legacy she’s left, and there are many unanswered questions, especially about her own life,” Robert agrees.
“And she still has this unerring ability to pull a fast one when you read her. Very clever.
“She’s definitely got the endearing quality and magnetism about her work. And that’s borne out by the people who, even in recession hit times, still come out for their dose of Agatha Christie and love to go through solving it.”
While the actor may not find touring easy (“tell anyone who sees me doing another tour to shoot me on sight!” he jokes), he’s looking forward to returning to the Floral Pavilion.
“I like New Brighton,” he volunteers. “They are all lovely there, and I’ve seen it developing over the years.
“And friendships that one’s built up, that’s nice. I know some of the golfing fraternity up there and have a few mates I play with.”
Agatha Christie’s Go Back For Murder is at the Floral Pavilion from October 28 to November 2. Call 0151 666 0000 or visit www.floralpavilion.com.