Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

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Beth Grainger (left) as Lucia, Christian Davies as Dr Carelli, Colin Young as Sir Claud Amory,  Jennifer Groome, as Edwina Raynor, Amy Cooper as Barbara Amory, Joan Wakeman as Miss Caroline Amory and Andy Bingham as Richard Amory

Black Coffee

The Nonentities

The Rose Theatre, Kidderminster


An imposing country house, a stolen valuable formulae, a famous but much disliked, miserly and patriarchal scientist (who you can forget as he is despatched to his maker within minutes of his arrival) and a dodgy foreigner (you can never trust them, can you), so we must be in Queen of Crime Agatha Christie territory.

All it needs is a dapper amateur detective to make the murder mystery complete so enter famed Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot with his faithful, if somewhat dim companion, Captain Hastings in what is another simply splendid production from The Nonentities.

This was Christie’s first stage play, premiered in 1930, and, like much of her work has to be treated with delicate care these days to avoid appearing dated, tired and old fashioned, after all the modern world, country mansion society, and modern policing with its CSI and forensics has moved on apace.

Treat Christie as a period drama though, take us on a journey back to the 1930s, and the writing, with its red herring moments scattered like currants in a bun, and not quite what they seem characters, all set the scene for an absorbing evening.

Richard Taylor is a marvellous Poirot, dapper, unflappable and with some lovely looks, asides and gestures to add humour to the part. His accent is consistent, believable and, most important, we can always understand what he is saying.


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Alan Parsons(left) as Tredwell and Chris Kay as Captain Hastings

The same can be said of Christian Davies’s Dr Carelli witha da Italiano accenti. A little over the top perhaps, but then again, he is a foreigner remember, popped up from nowhere and so, as he’s not English he is probably guilty of . . . whatever happened, or is happening . . . or might happen in the future in this Agatha Christien view of the world.

Foreign, but in the process of converting to Englishism is Lucia Amory, Italian by birth but now married to Richard Amory, son of the owner of this country pile, so rapidly heading in to acceptability.

Beth Grainger gives Lucia a rather sad and frightened air, almost as if she has escaped from some terrible past – so keep an eye on that, folks – while Andy Bingham looks and acts the part of the upper middle class scion of the family. We are to find he can be jealous and was dragged out of a promising career in the army by a father he hates.

Ah, the father, Sir Claud Amory, played in a gruff and remarkably unfriendly air by Colin Young. He appears in smoking jacket and foul mood and drags everyone into the library to tell them someone has nicked his formula for a new super explosive so the doors are locked and he has sent for old Hercule to find the culprit.

Off he goes to his study and when an old box of wartime hospital drugs appears – including some highly poisonous items such as strychnine –  being investigated at the same time as coffee is served with a cup taken off into sir’s study, you don’t have to be Poirot to know sir’s days, or indeed minutes in this case, are numbered and murder is about to be added to the missing formulae mystery.

Director Jen Eglinton, who not only designed the fabulous set, has not only kept the production firmly in its time as a period drama but has brought out all the humour led by the wonderful Joan Wakeman as Miss Caroline Amory, Sir Claud’s sister, and Amy Cooper as the larger than life Barbara, Sir Claud’s niece.

Caroline has wonderful timing, along with a lack of ability to hold a ball of wool, and it appears she is a distant relative of Jim Trott in The Vicar of Dibley, oh no, no, no . . . yes she could be. She has a delightful habit of dropping her tactless views about foreigners into conversations with . . . foreigners, and, as she has three to go at, it all makes for a fun festival of faux pas.

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Richard Taylor (left) as Hercule Poirot, Stefan Austin as Insp Japp, Chris Kay as Captain Hastings and George Gallagher as DC Johnson

Barbara, is a fun loving, liviug life to the full, man eater who has the less than worldly wise Captain Hastings in her sights. Hastings, played with an air of contented bewilderment by Chris Kay, you suspect, is about to learn about birds, bees and euphemisms.

With Sir Claud now the late Sir Claud, family physician Dr Graham is called and Thomas Powell hotfoots it in to confirm Sir Claud will take no further part in proceedings. But when the post mortem shows hyoscine poisoning and there was hyoscine in that old box of hospital drugs (remember that box?) . . . we are looking at (gasps all around) murder.

That means the police are called in arriving in the shape of Stefan Austin as Inspector Japp, Japp of the yard, who, true to form keeps an open mind, with the foreigners already in the frame of course. With him, looking like a Mafia hitman, is George Gallaher as D C Johnson. As always in Agatha’s universe the official police are always a somewhat bumbling lot, far inferior to her perceptive amateurs in the shape of Miss Marple and Hercule – who strangely never met, Miss Christie once declaring the pair would never get on.

Fussing around in the background we have Alan Parsons as the butler Tredwell and Sir Claud’s secretary Edwina Raynor, played in matter of fact, secretarial manner by Jennifer Groome in what is a variation from the original production with the secretary then being an Edward rather than Edwina.

Christie has a wonderful dexterity in manipulating her characters, overlaying them, interlocking them, hinting why they are and then are not suspects as she builds tension and points you in a host of directions that inevitably turn out to be cul de sacs, all with Poirot keeping his cards close to his chest until that final moment, the reveal, when the victorious murderer, at least they think they are in this case, finds their celebrations and crowing at having outwitted and outthought the famous detective might just have been a tad premature.

After all old Hercule had 33 novels to appear in with his last Curtain, popping out in 1975 so a poisoner back in 1930 is hardly going to upset the, how you say, apple cart.

The fine cast pace the story well, building up tension along the way and despite its age and out of date moments you are drawn into Christie’s world of not quite as they appear middle class characters and not quite as you thought mystery.

It is an intriguing evening of delight for any aficionados of murder mysteries, or indeed any lover of theatre, as an appreciative full house will happily testify.

To 18-05-24.

Roger Clarke


Hyoscine hydrobromide, incidentally, is over the counter travel sickness medication, in far stronger doses it used in palliative and end of life care and an overdose can be fatal. 

The Nonentities

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