Ian Waller enjoys a hugely entertaining adaptation of the Agatha Christie classic whodunnit
Hercule Poirot’s little grey cells were guaranteed a challenging workout at the Theatre Royal in Bath last night for the opening of the classic murder mystery The Murder On The Orient Express. The body of Samuel Ratchett has been found, stabbed multiple times, while the Orient Express is trapped in a snow fall on its way to London. On board is a glamorous group of travellers, as well as the legendary Belgium detective, but who was responsible for the dastardly crime and for that matter, why?
So begins a wonderfully creative and generally excellent adaptation of an Agatha Christie classic which, OK, yes, has been retold more times than your grandad’s favourite Christmas joke, but this time around benefits from some excellent performances and quite superb stagecraft.
The last time that I’d watched M Poirot was a couple of weeks ago with a huge Hollywood style film production of Death on the Nile starring Kenneth Branagh as Poirot alongside a host of famous acting talent, and Russell Brand, in a production that while glitzy and big budget, just didn’t somehow hit the mark. This new production at the Theatre Royal did away with the Hollywood royalty and instead relied on a great screenplay, a perfectly cast lead and wonderfully creative scenery.
Henry Goodman was simply superb at Hercule Poirot, giving the best performance that I’d seen at the Theatre Royal Bath in many a year. This wonderful actor perfectly inhabited every mannerism and idiosyncrasy of the OCD detective with such subtle skill that it was a real joy to watch. From the pedantic way that the moves and simply takes a seat, to his perfectly pitched questioning of the suspects and wonder at his own skills, he is joy to watch, making this one of the most complete and entertaining portrayals of the great detective that you’ll ever see (sorry Ken, but you really should be taking notes…).
Around him the supporting cast are generally excellent too, with Sara Stewart as Helen Hubbard and Patrick Robinson as Monsieur Bouc particularly impressive as the loud, multi-married American traveller and the Poirot’s old friend and manager of the Orient Express.
Throughout, as the plot unfolds, we learn more about each character’s background and how – well, to say too much more would be to spoil the story. Suffice to say, if you don’t know who did it when you arrive, you can look forward to a hugely entertaining evening of lies, murder and deception – so a typical night out in Bath really…
However, alongside the acting and the plot, it’s the wonderful stage sets and the way that each melds into the next one that it also so impressive. With the Orient Express itself a constant figure at the back of the stage, the compartments of the train, with actors aboard, are moved and glided around the stage with such skill and grace, that the stage hands deserve a good deal of credit for their well rehearsed choreography that helps that story to develop so smoothly.
I’m no new arrival to the classic mysteries of Agatha Christie and yet I still loved this wonderful version of an absolute classic.
Murder On The Orient Express play at the Theatre Royal Bath until 25 June 2022. For more information and to book tickets, go to www.theatreroyal.org.uk/event/murder-on-the-orient-express/