Tuesday, March 03, 2015


Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at the Old Court Theatre

Dame Agatha dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. “There you go, a new version – up to date!” A “new imagining”, directed by Joe Kennedy and Alex Houlton.
The plot of her wartime hit – as splendidly improbable as Murder on the Orient Express – survives more or less intact. Like Kevin Elyot's reworking, it restores the bleaker ending of the novel, with only the crazed killer alive to tell the tale.
The setting is still that island off the Devon coast – cut off from the mainland, with no mobile signal. The holiday home – stylishly realised here, though I would have liked bigger figurines and the nursery rhyme incorporated somehow – has no heating, but a working DVD player, spookily replacing the phonograph for the disembodied voice.
And the ten guests still gather for a House Party, where one rings for the servants and one calls one's equals by their surname. The dialogue wobbles once or twice - “beyond questionable doubt” - “I have nothing with which to reproach myself for” - and do people still go to “the pictures” ?
Christie's characters make the transition with varied success. They're mostly far too young – even the one surviving Cluedo character – General Mackenzie [touchingly done by David Stutchbury]. The judge is now an attractive woman [played with compelling presence by Rhiannon Regan]. The husband and wife domestic staff have become Irish sisters [Sally Ransome and Marie McNulty] and the retired copper is now a feisty private detective, strongly characterized by Hannah Sanger-Gowers. Among the more successful portrayals are Debbie Miles' Miss Brent, forever quoting her unconvincing Bible, and Jacob Burtenshaw's pistol-packing “soldier of fortune”.
Inevitably there's a good deal of static exposition before the cyanide kicks in, but after the interval – when we get a chance to decide whodunnit – the pace is racked up, there's a tense “duel” between the two survivors and a pacy dénouement before we're left with a Red Right Hand and the mark of Cain ...

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