Cue Miss Marple as Theatre Lawrence announces a murder — or two

photo by: Shawn Valverde

Penni Hansen, as Miss Marple, rehearses a scene from "A Murder Is Announced" on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, at Theatre Lawrence.

When it comes to older women, much of the talk these days is about how they are “unseen” — ignored by a society obsessed with youth.

But there’s a particular circumstance when being “unseen” is a distinct advantage — namely, if you are trying to solve murders in the English countryside circa mid-1900s.

“Remember that an elderly unmarried woman who knits and gardens is streets ahead of any detective sergeant,” Agatha Christie has a gentleman tell a male detective in her 1950 novel “A Murder is Announced.” Such a woman “can tell you what might have happened and what ought to have happened and even what actually did happen! And she can tell you why it happened!”

And that of course is due to the ability of women like Miss Jane Marple — Christie’s most famous creation after the flamboyant Hercule Poirot — to disappear into the scenery as they decipher clues and neatly sew up a murder case, preferably over a cup of tea or a bit of shopping.

In Theatre’s Lawrence’s stage adaptation of Christie’s novel, Miss Marple is played by Penni Hansen, who’s quite candid about what drew her to the role.

“I’m an old lady,” she says, “so when an old lady role comes up, that’s always fun.”

She notes that Miss Marple is also an “iconic character” and “you’re not given a lot of opportunities to play (those).”

Despite Miss Marple’s fame, Hansen is quick to point out that the amateur sleuth, in keeping with her low profile — “I only helped a little, here and there,” Christie has Miss Marple declare — is not the star of the show.

“There’s another character that’s the star,” Hansen says. “… I’m talking about Miss Blacklock.”

photo by: Shawn Valverde

Kelly Schellman, left, and Zach Koehn rehearse a scene from “A Murder Is Announced” on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, at Theatre Lawrence.

Miss Blacklock, played by Kelly Schellman, is a genteel older woman whose home in the picturesque village of Chipping Cleghorn is the scene of a murder that, curiously, is announced in the local newspaper the morning before it happens. Who placed the announcement and who’s responsible for what happens next in Miss Blacklock’s comfortable drawing room is at the heart of a mystery that rattles the village and involves plenty of suspicious characters, as well as a number of red herrings and, in high Christie fashion, more than a little comedy.

Schellman, who is the advertising support manager at the Journal-World and a Theatre Lawrence veteran, says she “relished the opportunity” to play the “multifaceted” Miss Blacklock.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have an excellent director to guide me through the process, discovering how Letitia Blacklock speaks, carries herself and interacts with her fellow villagers,” Schellman says of Jessica Franz-Martin, whom Theatre Lawrence regulars may recognize as the director of last year’s production of Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express.”

While “Orient Express” was a Poirot mystery set in the 1930s on a luxury train, the Miss Marple production takes place in a more tweedy post-World War II England, an era that Hansen describes as “not a lot of sparkle going on … but there’s some style to it.”

“I think the costumes that Jane (Pennington) has come up with are really, really great,” she says, and the set, designed by tech director James Diemer, is perfectly suited to the complexities of a “closed room murder.”

“It has to have a lot of function to it as well as look good,” Hansen says.

One of the “brilliant” things about Christie, displayed in dozens of novels over decades, was her gift for entirely “sucking the audience in” to a mystery, “whether we figure it out beforehand or not,” Franz-Martin says.

But Hansen certainly doesn’t expect the audience to beat her Miss Marple to the solution.

“Hopefully the audience doesn’t see it coming,” she says, “if we’ve done our job. … I’m hoping that the audience enjoys the ride that we’re going to take them on.”

“A Murder is Announced” opens Friday at Theatre Lawrence, 4660 Bauer Farm Drive, and will have multiple performances through March 10. For information about tickets, call 785-843-SHOW (7469) or go online at

photo by: Shawn Valverde

The cast of “A Murder Is Announced” rehearses on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, at Theatre Lawrence.

photo by: Shawn Valverde

Cast members rehearse a scene from “A Murder Is Announced” on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, at Theatre Lawrence.

photo by: Shawn Valverde

Sydney Normile rehearses a scene from “A Murder Is Announced” on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, at Theatre Lawrence.


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