A beautiful actress hosts a dinner party at her palatial villa. It’s glamorous, well-attended…and ends with murder. If this sounds like the plot of an Agatha Christie novel, it’s because it’s the story of her novel The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side. On Sunday, January 30, the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA), Mumbai, will stage an English adaptation of the book starring Sonali Kulkarni as Mamta Basu, a Bollywood actress living in Goa, and Shernaz Patel as Miss Mistry (the Indian Miss Marple). The production is a collaboration between Wales Millennium Centre and Wiltshire Creative Production and is directed by British director Melly Still. The play has been adapted for the stage as The Mirror Crack’d by British writer Rachel Flagstaff. Writer Ayeesha Menon has reimagined the play for the Indian audience. Menon spoke to us about the challenges of adapting Christie, how she picks projects and her favourite authors.
The play will be staged at Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, NCPA, Mumbai from Sunday, January 30 to Sunday, February 9 at 7.30pm.
How have you adapted Agatha Christie for the Indian audiences?
This is a story set in a sleepy village in England. Immediately, it became important to find an equivalent of that atmosphere but set in India. I eventually settled on Goa. It was then important to think through each character’s traits and what their character arcs were to find out who they would be if they were Indian. Also, there are some important themes that needed to be translated. In the original, the story took place in the context of a new development complex being built nearby and the residents being wary of what this influx of outsiders would do to their lives. So setting it in Goa, at a time when hippies were prevalent and were taking over the beaches, hotels and market places seemed to be a clear direction to go in. It was a fascinating exercise but also challenging as in this particular story it was about a Hollywood film crew coming to England to shoot a movie. So it was about the clash between the culture and ideology of two very different sets of people. In our version all the characters are Indian. Luckily every community is so different from one another in India. The Goans have such a unique identity that their rituals and traditions served as an ideal contrast to the Bollywood community that comes to shoot their film in Goa.
What did you think of The Mirror Crack’d?
I read the book when I was very young and saw a couple of on-screen adaptations. One film and a TV serialisation as well. But when I received Rachel’s script three months ago, I was struck by how beautifully she had identified the themes that were important to her and brought that to the forefront. It is an emotional journey with some incredible female roles and I was very touched by it.
You’ve adapted several pieces of fiction for the stage. How do you pick your projects?
I’ve adapted several novels for BBC Radio 4 and I’m currently working on an adaptation of the Ramayana for the National Theatre in London. When I am offered a project I always pick the ones I feel most deeply connected with. I have written several adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, but the one I set in India was particularly close to my heart as I set it in the Catholic community in Bandra and my family is Catholic! With this project, it was a no-brainer! Getting a chance to work with Melly Still who has worked on Broadway, in the West End and with the Royal Shakespeare company was too much of an honour to pass up.
Who do you like reading?
I love reading Muriel Spark and Margaret Atwood but I also love reading murder mysteries. Even the trashy ones! I am a big fan of Hitchcock so if a book is marketed as “Hitchcockian”, I will definitely pick that off the shelf.