Poirot back on the trail

Black Coffee

Belgrade Theatre


WHAT a lovely gentle, entertaining and enthralling evening that was! Agatha Christie’s Black Coffee with M. Hercule Poirot exercising his ‘little grey cells’ (and ours) with a spectacular bit of stage sleuthing.

Robert Powell (of Detectives and Jesus fame) has taken over the mantle for this stage tour and actually it appears that this play is the ONLY one that David Suchet never performed, so for most people it was completely new.

It was also completely lovely. In the hands of Robert Powell, Poirot has a gentle humour, a quick appreciation of his surroundings (and of the women in it), a gentle ribbing of his sidekick Captain Hastings (Robin McCallum), a dapper brilliance, an economy of action, movement and speech but mostly a fine and swift grasp of the niceties of 1930s style aristocratic murder.

He has arrived in the home of miserly but rich inventor Sir Claud Amory (Ric Recate) at his invitation. Sir Claud has been hot on the trail of the formula for a huge bomb and persons unknown have stolen the only copy from his safe.

Who are the suspects? There’s the butler Treadwell (Martin Caroll), Sir Claud’s assistant Raynor (Mark Jackson), his son Richard (Ben Nealon) whose new wife Italian Lucia (Olivia Mace) is being blackmailed by unexpected guest, an unscrupulous, self-styled Dr Carelli (Gary Mavers). Flighty and flapperish sister Barbara (Felicity Houlbrooke) who takes a shine to Hastings and Aunt Caroline (Liza Goddard) who simply gets on with her knitting in an atmosphere of parsimonious merriment – after Sir Claud’s untimely demise.

Who killed him and why is the main action of what Poirot calls ‘a real drama’. It’s, as we know of old with Agatha Christie’s ouvre, the quiet ones you have to watch and true to form, the killer of the unmourned old man is the least likely.

Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard (Eric Carte) turns up to throw in a few extra red herrings while Poirot looks on with quiet amusement. Of course I’m not telling you whodunnit! What do you take me for? A killjoy?

There is so much here to delight the eye as well as appeal to the mind. The Art Deco set is sumptuous, the costumes delightful and all in all this production’ directed by Joe Harmston, tells the story with a fine wit, deft and unexpected twists and the denouement, as always, creeps up without the tiniest of waves. This is polished, professional theatre at its best and a joy to watch. To 10-05-14

Jane Howard



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