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

Fatal attraction of the Nile

cast of murder on the nile

All aboard with a one way ticket for some of the cast setting sail on paddle steamer Lotus

Murder on the Nile

The Rose Theatre, Kidderminster


FOR isolated country house in a snowstorm, read paddle steamer on the Nile, add assorted guests from the posher end of the street, throw in a few foreigners, who we all know are congenitally dodgy, a body count to rival Midsomer Murders and Agatha Christie fans will be in their element  - and so are the cast. 

The play started life as Moon on the Nile, but Christie thought it would work best on the printed page, so it was reborn as the 1937 novel Death on the Nile featuring Hercule Poirot, but by the time Christie decided to rewrite it again as a play, Hercule, a character Christie disliked intensely, had been dumped overboard to be replaced by the sleuthing Canon Ambrose Pennefather – although, as this is Christie, he is not above suspicion.

The good Rev, played with suitable vagueness and pastoral concern by Patrick Bentley, is uncle and former guardian of Kay Ridgeway-Mostyn, the richest woman in England, newly married and on her honeymoon, played with the superior air of woman who gets her own way by Marika Farr.

Her new husband, Simon, played by Stefan Austin, is a bit wet to be honest, tending to hysteria and with his touch of clipped accent and melodrama, is the perfect 1930s hero . . . or cad. Who knows? After all everyone is a suspect.

Adding to the mix is foreigner one, the slightly mad Jacqueline de Severac, played by Nikki Fisher, who manages a very nice hysterical drunk when needed, drunk never being an easy role to play convincingly.

Jacquie is, or was, Kay’s best friend and was once engaged to Simon. We suspect she might be a few bottles short of a crate, particularly when, three sheets to the wthe rev, doc and Mithind, she starts singing Frankie and Johnnie quietly to herself rocking away in the corner, which in truth is more distracting than unsettling.

Foreigner No 2 is Louise, Kay’s French maid, played in suitable servile fashion by Hannah Tolley. Her accent alone marks her out as a suspect in the Christie way of things.

Suspects all:  Andy Barlow as Dr Bessner, Patrick Bentley as Canon Pennefather, Chris Kay as William Smith

And then there is Dr Bessner, a doctor from some unspecified country in the general area of Germany from his accent. It was a country that was ruined by Kay’s ultra rich late father. The Doc, played with a consistent accent by Andy Barlow, would have been more of a suspect had he not been spending much of the second act mopping up blood, trying to give injections and checking pulses.

His anger at the way the rich in the shape of Kay’s father had ruined his father and the poor of his country was echoed by the left wing, cynical firebrand William Smith, played with offhand disdain for the wealthy and higher echelons of society by Chris Kay.

How such a man of the people could afford a berth on a luxury paddle steamer on the Nile was a mystery until we discover his real secret and who he really is (cue dramatic music) in the second act.

And we can’t discount the wealthy and ultra snobbish Helen ffoliot-ffoulkes, with lowercase fs note, none of your proletariat capitals here. Sandy Tudor plays her with a glorious contempt for all around her – unless of course she sees them as at least her social equals.

An unashamed social climber she is travelling with her niece Christina Grant, played with quiet subservience by Harriet Poulton, who she treats as not so much a travelling companion as a slave and someone she blames for not only her own failings but everyone else’s as well as anything untoward that happens.

Then there are a few peripheral figures, the captain of the Lotus, McNaught forHele and steward instance, played by Rock Salt, who pops in as the body count mounts, and there is the bead selling peddler played by Nick Haynes with everything from dirty postcards to religious icons on his tray while flitting in an out with access everywhere, and foreign don’t forget, we have the steward, played by Dan Taylor, who could be an outside bet.

Sail searching: Sandy Tudor as Miss ffoliot-ffoulkes and Dan Taylor as The Steward

With Christie’s habit of creating characters who are usually not who they say they are, or have backstories which we only discover when the undertakers are already working overtime removing corpses, there are enough red herrings swimming around to spawn any number of theories until all is revealed.

The cast seem to be enjoying themselves, which rubs off on the audience, keep their accents well where needed and manage to build the suspense at a nice pace, well directed by Lynn Ravenhill.

Christie’s plays, ingenious in their time, seem a little old fashioned in plot and dialogue these days and can seem a little pedestrian as they wordily first set the scene and then slowly unravel the plot, which is a drawback of the genre and no reflection on this production, indeed Ravenhill has done well to keep the paddleboat chugging down the Nile at a decent lick with only a single static set for assistance. 

Mind you Keith Higgins and Mike Lawrence and their team did produce a splendid set, the saloon of a 1930’s Egyptian paddle steamer – not that I know what one looked like, but it was easy to imagine it had seen service for generations of ladies and gents with ff lowercase, hyphenated surnames sipping gin fizzes and reading Tatler.

If you enjoy a good murder mystery, and Agatha Christie was the undoubted queen of the field, then this one is for you. To 31-01-15

Roger Clarke


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