Writer: Agatha Christie
Director: Joe Harmston
Reviewer: Rosie Wheat
The Public Reviews Rating:
One of the most famous and popular murder mysteries of Agatha Christie’s legacy, Murder on the Nile on stage does not disappoint. It has a nice mix of all classes, introverts, extroverts, drunks and dandies, with a sticky murder and a tricky question – what more could one ask of Christie? After the tension and the temperatures of this play, you may wish you’d stuck to the rain.
The misfits are tumbled together on a boat headed out on to the River Nile. Amongst them are the recently married Kay Mostyn, richest woman in England, and her penniless husband, Simon Mostyn. Apparently on a honeymoon, the fantasy is cut short by the arrival of Simon’s embittered ex. And she is bitter for a rather good reason.
Without any spoilers, when the murder is committed, fingers are pointed in spider-web fashion to more than just the obvious. The plot thickens as the play is set post-Wall Street crash, adding a financial motive to each and every character on the boat. A question hangs in the air above the stage – What is more powerful, love or money?
Expertly coordinated, Christie builds the tension slowly. She plunges the audience into the Egyptian culture by opening the play with an Arabic conversation. Only when she is happy that the audience is firmly settled on the banks of Egypt does she usher in her chosen characters, each wonderfully unique and equally suspicious. The apprehension for a murder is tangible in the hot air. Regular gunshot sounds can be heard from an Egyptian celebration on the distant shore, setting the cast to reach for refills of brandy.
The Agatha Christie Company knows how to put on a good show. Every character is a delight to watch, especially show-stealer Kate O’Mara, playing Miss ffoliot-ffoulkes, who conjures up the formidable image of Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey. The young and witty William Smith, played by Max Hutchinson, adds a bit of comic banter, his charming cynicism cutting through the pretence of his fellow sailors. However, the sweet Christina Grant, excellently embodied by Jennifer Bryden, throws him off his guard, adding a nice romance to the mystery.
Alongside the financially ruined Doctor, the bitter maid, the affable stewards and the entangled lovers, this play feels like an Italian farce with a Christie makeover.
The lack of a Poirot figure is palpable, but the clergyman Cannon Pennefather, played by Dennis Lill, steps in to tie the ends together. Dennis Lill is another standout, playing his larger-than-life character with a natural, at-ease grace that is utterly convincing.
It takes a while to adjust to the standard melodrama of the acting, which can feel at times over-played. But once accepted, this production is a little bit of indulgent entertainment. Definitely one to step out into the rain for.
Runs until Saturday 4th August at the Cambridge Arts Theatre
Murder on the Nile - Arts Theatre, Cambridge,