Agatha Christie's Spider's Web, which was written as an original vehicle for the actress Margaret Lockwood during the final rehearsals for her better-known Witness for the Prosecution, combines drawing-room farce with drawing-room murder mystery. Even upon its initial production in 1954, critics found the play derivative of Christie's other works. Indeed, Christie herself seemed to realize this: One character in Spider's Web mentions Ten Little Indians.
As the third in N.C. State University's It's Murder! trilogy of Christie plays, Spider's Web is a light and slight piece of entertainment that offers a few laughs among the old-fashioned English murder.
The plot is standard Christie suspense: At a house in the English countryside, Clarissa (Dana Marks) entertains a number of friends (played by Fred Corlett, John Hall III and Joel Horton), an event that just happens to coincide with a threat to the custody of her husband's daughter Pippa (Betsy Newsome).
A murder that incorporates the drawing room's secret passage follows, and Clarissa's misunderstanding that Pippa is the killer leads to a series of farcical events involving the body's concealment, lies to the investigating inspector (Danny Norris) and attempts to figure out whodunit. The solution involves false identities, hidden messages, hidden treasure and terrible secrets, the likes of which will be familiar to anyone schooled in the fine tradition of rich English people with secrets.
Spider's Web doesn't have a lot of substance, though it does have style—the set is a lovely piece of old-school theatrical design by Nick Purdy, complete with the spring-loaded secret room in the bookcase (they don't make those like they used to). It's hard to describe the performances without giving away the plot twists, but Marks gets some laughs as Clarrisa and David Klionsky has a menacing presence as an unexpected visitor. Fans of more contemporary drama might find the play a bit slow, and the solution requires some spurious logic, but it's still a light, often entertaining farce. Little is unfamiliar in Spider's Web, but the tale it weaves should appeal to fans of old-school murder mystery.