In the winter of 1938, a beautiful English millionairess, Linnet Ridgeway, and her husband honeymoon aboard a luxury steamer on the Nile, joined by – amongst others - two society friends, a wealthy dowager and her frumpy companion, a fading, alcoholic actress, an Austrian doctor and a political agitator. Enter a spurned former fiancée, and a tragic sequence of events culminates in murder….
In Christie’s original stage adaptation of this slick whodunnit, there is the notable absence of Hercule Poirot, which serves to turn the play’s focus onto the behaviour and interactions of a group of people on a boat, with a murderer in their midst.
This production, from Buskins Drama Society, was structurally faithful to the book. However, the director, Steve Lomon, aimed to focus on the ‘ridiculousness… campness, glamour and absurdity’ of her novels, deliberately making the characters ‘larger than life’.
To an extent, this provided for a warm, engaging and genuinely enjoyable performance with a decidedly modern subtext (look out for the ‘post-structural fence’ joke). Some of the funniest lines, however, were Christie’s own words which, ironically, highlight her wit and humour, often overlooked by those who dismiss her as populist and frothy.
The gardens and lake of Worcester College were a beautiful backdrop that spoke for itself. The man-made scenery and props were appropriately simple and well thought out, making seamless transitions of the scene changes. The costumes were great and the use of space excellent.
In terms of the acting, I feel that the girls outperformed the boys. All the girls played their parts extremely well, from the eager-to-please Cornelia Robson (Kate Wilkins) to melodramatic Mrs Otterbourne (Emerald Fennell) to the increasingly unhinged and lovestruck Jacqueline de Bellefort (Grace Overbeke). They also remembered their lines, which is more than can be said for the boys.
Jamie Brindley as Simon Doyle had an awkward stage presence, constantly posing with hand on hip and frankly looking as though he didn’t want to be there. His scenes clearly weren’t helped by (what I can only presume are) his so-called friends in the audience, chortling and chain-smoking their way through the play. Colonel Race was played by George Carr, whose English flitted back and forth between the Queen and the Estuary. Matt Lacey’s Poirot was rather too introspective and lacked self assurance, although he delivered some notably funny one-liners and will probably improve with each performance. Gareth Russell was wonderfully camp as Timothy Allerton.
The actors were obviously able to poke fun at themselves as well as at the great Dame, but had it not been for the overall tongue-in-cheek, slightly self-deprecating good naturedness of this performance, I might just have been inclined to stay at home, shut myself in the bathroom and read the book instead.