IT'S post-war middle England and the visitors to a quiet country house are all agog at the prospect of a break in the dreariness.

A murder has been announced in the classifieds of the local newspaper, and for the audience of the 1950 Agatha Christie classic it feels like settling into a comfy armchair as the cast does the same throughout the crowd-pleaser.

It's immediately easy to see why this slick and stylish production adapted for the stage by Leslie Dabron has entered its fourth year of touring – it is really accessible and it's all done with a superbly light touch.

The set is simple, but instantly recognisable as one for an Agatha Christie drama. Director Michael Lunney does away with the more complicated elements of the novel and stages the entire show in two drawing rooms.

The cast is pared down too. It features Sarah Thomas, of Last Of The Summer Wine, as a rather understated incarnation of Miss Marple. There's little of the brilliant mind which uncovers mysteries through an in-depth knowledge of the characters of her village to be seen. This Marple is however, undoubtedly, a first class busy-body.

Heartbeat's district nurse Kazia Pelka is the indisputable star of the show, Letitia Blacklock. She serves as the pivot around which slightly weird people and even stranger goings on revolve.

Those straight performances harmonised well with that of Tom Butcher as a world weary and a bit smarter than usual Inspector Craddock. His experience in the role was apparent, his timing spot on.

Despite the ever-present subjects of death and lies, much of the value of this production lies in its comedy.

As Time Goes By's Jenny Funnell plays a hilariously dotty Dora Bunner, but is perhaps pipped to the loudest laughs by Lydia Piechowiak, who plays Mitzi, a plain-speaking Eastern European émigré housekeeper.

Just like the Delicious Death cake that Mitzi serves up for a birthday party, the Middle Ground Theatre Company’s production's melting richness is gradually revealed, through the six acts.

Between the curtain falling and rising audience members can be heard speculating over the identity of the murderer.

While the historic Hippodrome serves as a good backdrop for the whodunnit, this 21st century version of the 69-year-old play gives it a new lease of life.

A Murder Is Announced

At Darlington Hippodrome until Saturday, September 14