Murder on the Nile

Agatha Christie
The Agatha Christie Company
Derby Theatre
to

Eight productions in the past six years have earned the Agatha Christie Company acclaim for staging the Queen of Crime’s works the way they were intended to be performed.

Last year’s offering, Verdict, wasn’t universally praised; not everyone appreciated the play because it’s not a whodunnit and you actually see a murder committed. This was despite Mrs Christie’s opinion that it was her best play, apart from Witness for the Prosecution.

This year the company has chosen one of Agatha’s more popular stories, Murder on the Nile which was originally produced in 1944.

The play has resonance today despite being nearly 70 years old: it features a group of rich people cruising up the Nile at a time of unrest in the Middle East and trouble on the financial markets.

Murder on the Nile tells the story of how Simon Mostyn and his wife Kay are on their honeymoon. But Simon’s former fiancée Jacqueline de Severac, who was Kay’s best friend, follows them everywhere. When Kay is shot in the head, Jacqueline is the prime suspect. But she has an alibi, so someone has to unravel the lies and deceit.

I recently saw a re-run of Murder on the Nile on ITV3 and thankfully the stage version is much different. While the story is basically the same, there are several major differences.

The little Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is off solving crimes elsewhere, which is a blessing as David Suchet’s shoes seem way too big for anyone else to fill.

Instead the sleuthing is left to Canon Ambrose Pennefather, said to be one of Christie’s most complex characters. He doesn’t always tell the truth and shows the meticulous reasoning of an experienced policeman when it comes to uncovering who committed the crime.

The television adaptation ties up all the loose ends neatly whereas on the stage the final scene leaves room for interpretation.

Denis Lill, an Agatha Christie Theatre Company regular, gives a delightful performance as the canon. There’s nothing stereotypical about him; he’s not overly pious, he likes a drink and he sees people for what they really are.

Chloe Newsome also has depth as Jacqueline, the spurned woman stalking her ex-finance and leaving you with doubts about her actions and motives.

Ben Nealon as the initially weak but scheming Simon, Max Hutchinson as the forward and flamboyant William Smith and Mark Wynter, impressive as the Jewish doctor Bessner, give solid support. So too does Kate O’Mara as cantankerous Miss Ffoliot-Ffoulkes. Initially the veteran actress appears as though she might have difficulty projecting, but long before the end a witty line or a meaningful glance endears her to the audience.

Susie Amy doesn’t make Kay as unpleasant as she perhaps ought to be. The script calls for her to be manipulative and spoilt by her wealth but Miss Amy merely hints at the character’s distastefulness.

Director Joe Harmston is content to present the play as a period piece and on the whole directs with a steady hand.

The opening scenes of Murder on the Nile appear at times wordy as there’s a lot of chitchat going on. But even though there isn’t a murder until after the interval, the play eventually provides enough suspense and drama to make a riveting evening’s entertainment.

Steve Orme