Murder On The Nile, Theatre Royal Brighton, New Road, Monday, June 11, to Saturday, June 16 (From The Argus)
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Murder On The Nile, Theatre Royal Brighton, New Road, Monday, June 11, to Saturday, June 16
"To be able to create a story, which can happen in one place, over a confined period of time, and keep a theatrical energy that makes you want to know what is going to happen next is a hell of a challenge.”
So says director Joe Harmston of Agatha Christie’s “well-made plays”, which The Agatha Christie Theatre Company have been performing across the country for the past seven years.
Despite being one of the most successful playwrights of the 20th century – having penned the longest running West End play The Mousetrap and at one point having three plays in London’s West End and two on Broadway at the same time – Christie is rarely featured in critical lists of the century’s great theatre writers.
“She got completely ignored,” says Harmston. “She was a good writer and through the crime genre she could write about interesting issues, particularly issues for women. The female members of the company always love playing these parts – she gives actresses such a great deal to sink their teeth into.”
Having focused on the Mistress Of Suspense’s more unusual works for their past two tours – including Verdict, which turned the whodunnit on its head by showing the murder in its opening scenes – Harmston decided to go back to a classic Christie favourite.
That said, fans of Death On The Nile, the novel on which the play is based, might be a little surprised by the play, which sees the Belgian detective Poirot’s little grey cells replaced by sleuthing priest Canon Pennefather.
“The genesis of the story is quite complicated,” admits Harmston, pointing out that the original short story didn’t feature Poirot and the first draft of the novel also omitted the detective.
“She had seen a production of her popular Poirot play Black Coffee and the actor who played the detective played it appallingly badly. It was one of the things that put her off theatrical adaptations of Poirot. It’s sad she never got to see David Suchet, who honoured the detail of what she wanted to do.
“The Canon is much more directly connected to the characters. The worst kind of crime dramas are the ones which become a dry process of a policeman dealing with evidence; the best are about trying to solve the crime because it matters to you, because of the personal involvement with the people concerned. You don’t want the detective to overshadow the drama.”
Murder On The Nile combines Christie’s interest in Egypt – her second husband was an archaeologist who had spent time in the desert – with her love of the classic confined-space drama, as all the characters are trapped together on the cruising boat with the murderer.
“A lot of Christie’s plays are really about social observation,” says Harmston. “By putting them into an extreme situation, the characters reveal their true selves. Class really gets explored in Murder On The Nile – the expectations and prejudices they have about each other.”
The play is also set alongside a time of turmoil in the 1930s, when Egyptians were fighting against their colonial masters – drawing parallels with the Arab Spring today – and when many had been ruined by the Wall Street Crash.
“It is art echoing life, echoing art in the best possible ways,” says Harmston.
Murder On The Nile features three of The Agatha Christie Theatre Company’s founder members – Kate O’Mara, Chloe Newsome and Ben Nealon – performing with regulars Denis Lill and Mark Wynter.
“For next year we are looking at a really interesting play, Go Back For Murder,” says Harmston. “It’s not performed very much. It’s a little bit like a JB Priestly time play, with the action happening across a 25-year period. Characters move backwards and forwards through time as they look back on the events of a particular day.”
* Starts 7.45pm, 2.30pm matinees on Thurs and Sat, tickets from £12. Call 0844 8717650