Benefitting from a punchy script and some fine individual performances, The Official Agatha Christie Theatre Company’s production of Murder on the Nile at Oxford Playhouse was a good evening’s entertainment, even for those of us who could remember who done it.
Vanessa Morley ably stepped into the shoes of Kate O’Mara, who was unfortunately sick for the first night, as a superbly obnoxious Miss ffoliot-ffoulkes, and provided many humorously egocentric moments in the midst of the action.
Another sterling performance was given by Robert Duncan as Canon Pennefather, the guardian of rich heiress Kay Mostyn (played by Susie Amy). Not only did he confidently pull off speaking Arabic to the steward and French to Kay’s French maid, but, in the absence of Poirot, it was down to him to solve the mystery. He also held together the moral centre of the play, the existence of which viewers of the various film versions may not have noticed; The love triangle which provides the motivation for the murder and involves wealthy Kay pinching her best friend Jacky’s fiancé, is compared by the Canon to King David taking the poor man’s only ewe-lamb, but despite enlisting the audience’s sympathy for Jacky, he warns against vengeance and its consequences.
Jacqueline de Severac (Jacky) is also very well played by Claire Marlowe, who gives her a complexity of character not seen in the film versions. There is something pathetic about this Jacky, torn between love for both her best friend and her former fiancé and hatred of what they have done to her. Her outward defiance is offset by her deep hurt and there are some memorable exchanges between her and Canon Pennefather on the morality of her plans and actions.
Max Hutchinson, who plays ‘William Smith’, wannabe revolutionary, adds a refreshing lightness to the play, with some great one-liners and an extraordinary marriage proposal. The interplay between the snobbish Miss ffoliot-ffoulkes and this supposed representative of the working classes nicely shows the class divide whilst providing humorous moments which often border on farce. Jennifer Bryden makes an excellently fresh-faced and innocent Christina Grant, ffoliot-ffoulkes’s niece.
The two Egyptians, Musa and Harun, the Steward, played by Hambi Pappas and Sydney Smith, are well-cast and add some real Egyptian flavour to the play by appearing to speak Arabic, though Mark Wynter is somewhat less convincing as a Jewish Dr Bessner. The pseudo-Germanic word order might have worked if it hadn’t been for the ridiculously hammy accent with overtones of home counties English, which made his words often quite unrecognisable and did detract somewhat from an understanding of what was going on.
The set, the observation deck of the ship, is well put together, if unchanging through the play, and the programme is particularly splendidly illustrated as well as containing an interesting article by the artistic director, who seems convinced that Agatha Christie would have been an anti-capitalist campaigner if she were around today.
It is difficult to bring something new to classic crime, particularly when the suspense has been punctured by numerous previous versions of the same story, but this production is certainly worth seeing and manages to bring out some previously unexplored angles and give the play a fresh perspective.