Writer: Agatha Christie
Director: Joe Harmston
Reviewer: Mary Tapper
The Public Reviews Rating:
Are you mad about Agatha Christie? Do you read the books, watch the TV series, marvel at the acting of David Suchet as Poirot, sit at home trying to work out which of the cast of players is the inevitable murderer? How does the experienced Agatha Christie Company fare with their latest offering – does it disappoint or satisfy the craving for a classy and well-written whodunnit?
At the beginning of the play the cast assemble aboard a cruise boat ready to head down the Nile. Recently married couple Kay and Simon Mostyn have a problem – they are being followed throughout their honeymoon by Simon’s ex-fiancee Jacqueline de Severac. As the group assembles we are introduced to a doctor, an overbearing aunt and her rather downtrodden niece, an outspoken young man and a clergyman. The clergyman, played with some style by Robert Duncan, is important to the play, as there is one notable absentee from the boat – no Hercule Poirot in this production, in contrast to the TV version, so it falls to our Canon to join the dots and solve the inevitable murder.
With average performances throughout, the production fails to set the world on fire. It is pleasant enough but the action seems strangely static and the play seems to lack pace. As my companion put it “there do seem to be rather a lot of words”. The acting fails to impress, as we are left not really caring about the relationships between the players and the descent into drunken chaos at the end of the first act failed to convince. With no Poirot present a heavy burden is placed on the shoulders of Canon Pennefather and, whilst for the most part he convinces, his relationship with Jacqueline de Severac (played by Claire Marlowe) is not fully developed leaving the ending lacking in credibility.
Having said all that the play is rather like a comfy old pair of slippers. With a beautiful set, the recreated stern of a cruise ship strewn with wicker chairs and a small bar behind, it is easy to just sit back and let the story unfold before you. The action all takes place against the same backdrop but, with several staircases and levels to the boat, great care has been taken to make the feel authentic. Lighting is excellent and with good sound effects we are easily transported to the sweltering heat of the Nile.
The play is also surprisingly relevant in its social commentary. There is discussion of the morals of businessmen and we are shown first hand the effect that the pursuit of profit without ethical considerations can have. Wealth and its corrosive effect on how people live their lives are a constant theme. It is therefore disappointing that by the end of the play we do not really care about any of the main protagonists and are just happy to see the mystery solved.
So, a safe enough bet for an evenings entertainment but this play fails to set the world alight and one can’t help feeling that throughout the whole play there is something missing – a vital spark of life to add spice and heart. Poirot anyone?
Runs until 8th Sept
Murder on the Nile – Oxford Playhouse,