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Posts Tagged ‘Agatha Christie’

Agatha Christie is the world’s best selling writer of fiction, clocking up some two billion books, half of them in languages other than English. She started writing plays when she took against someone else’s stage adaptation of one of her works. Five plays later the world’s longest runner, The Mousetrap, opened – if we ignore its closure during the pandemic, this is also its Platinum Jubilee year. Fifteen or so plays followed, but this wasn’t one of them, being a recent adaptation by Ken Ludwig of one of the novels.

The story starts with some scenes in Istanbul as we are introduced to the train passengers, Hercule Poirot, returning from Syria, being one of them, as they prepare for the journey. There’s the English Colonel and his lover, the American widow who’s collected a fortune by collecting husbands, the East European Princess and her companion, the obnoxious American who thinks he can buy anything, the Countess and the Swedish missionary. Ludwig has reduced the number of characters for this staging.

They all have a story and a reason to be there, which we learn as the journey progresses. The owner of the train company Wagons Lit, the train conductor and the head waiter are all on board and all involved. They never get further than Serbia, stuck in the snow, but that’s far enough for a murder to take place and an investigation to be concluded. The denouement moves from whodunnit to the moral case for it.

Henry Goodman is excellent, making Poirot his own, and he’s surrounded by a fine supporting cast. It’s difficult to stage a play on a train, but I felt Jonathan Church’s production didn’t use the stage well some of the time, with sightline issues even in the best seats. However, in Robert Jones’ design looked stylish, and It was an entertaining couple of hours, but it seemed to me to be a bit too safe. I couldn’t help thinking how much the novel was more suitable for screen adaptation, which it has been, twice.

The run in Chichester is over, but its heading for Bath if you’re nearby and so inclined.

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This is such a perfect pairing of play and venue. Much of the action of Agatha Christie’s 1953 play takes place in an Old Bailey courtroom and the County Hall chamber is a superb stand-in for the real thing. This is not the sort of play I’m usually drawn to, though I went to The Mousetrap (as it was the only theatre I hadn’t been in) and enjoyed it, and I thoroughly enjoyed this. It may not run as long as the other one, but it has HIT written all over it.

It’s the case of the alleged murder of a rich old woman by a charming young man. The prosecution and defence QC’s are arch enemies who love winning their cases. The key witness is a foreigner (not so politically correct today, but it has post-Brexit resonance)! I hadn’t seen the play or film before, so the expertly written twists were genuinely surprising. What more can I say without spoiling it?

Designer William Dudley has a venue which virtually designs itself, but his extra touches are excellent. Chris Davey’s lighting and especially Mic Pool’s ‘soundscape’ add much to create the unique atmosphere. It’s hard to imagine better casting than the triumvirate of Patrick Godfrey as Judge and David Yelland & Philip Franks as the QC’s, all excellent, and Jack McMullen and Catherine Steadman are terrific as the defendant Leonard Vole and his wife Romaine.

It’s a somewhat old-fashioned evening, but Lucy Bailey’s production oozes quality from every pore and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Oh, and the seats must be the comfiest in theatre-land.

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