Aoife Byrne reviews the latest Agatha Christie production to hit The Gaiety Theatre, prescription Murder on the Nile
The Agatha Christie Theatre Company’s Murder on the Nile at The Gaiety Theatre has all the component parts of an Agatha Christie locked-room mystery, malady filled with the red-herrings and drama of the timeless whodunit. Commencing with the assembly of passengers on a cruise-liner on the Nile, the audience is introduced to honeymooners Kay Mostyn (Susie Amy) and Simon Mostyn (Ben Nealon). The couple is followed and tormented by Simon’s former fiancée, the furious and scorned Jacqueline de Severac (Claire Marlowe), who shows up moments before the ship sets sail and immediately instigates tension.
Perhaps one of the most common criticisms of Christie’s work is that it is outmoded and archaic. This can certainly not be argued for this production of Murder on the Nile. The director (Joe Harmston) emphasises the play’s exploration of monetary issues, effectively striking a chord with a contemporary audience. Set after the Wall Street Crash of 1929, it explores the effects of market collapse and financial ruin, successfully illustrating the dangerous lengths that people will go to in order to achieve monetary stability.
When adapting the novel Death on the Nile to the stage, Christie abandoned the immensely popular Hercule Poirot, reworking the central character and inevitable detective Canon Pennefather into the script. The change to Pennefather works, given the play’s exploration of greed; the whimsical, saintly Poirot is unsuited to the darker subject matter in the way the well-intentioned yet imperfect Pennefather is, and Robert Duncan does justice to the role in this production. Nonetheless, Poirot’s absence on the cruise-liner is a glaring one, and the audience does get the impression that he has (forgive me) missed the boat on this one.
The standalone performance is Claire Marlowe’s for her depiction of Jacqueline. It is no mean feat when an actor pulls off an evil laugh without being clichéd or melodramatic. Her nuanced and largely convincing performance commands the stage where other characters fall flat. For instance, the admittedly amusing drunkard Miss Gfoliot-ffoulkes (Nichola McAuliffe) was the predictable favourite, as appreciative laughter from the audience constantly affirmed. Even still, McAuliffe, along with Max Hutchinson as William Smith, was guilty of blundering lines at crucial plot-points.
While this is a generally successful performance, The Gaiety’s boxy acoustics amplified every sound onstage. Consequently, attempts by Harmston to create the atmosphere of a bustling Egyptian port in actuality became noisy and distracting. Every movement, footstep, or prop usage onstage could be clearly heard and at times drowned out dialogue. This being said, the sound designer (Matthew Bugg) made clever use of offstage music and sound effects in building suspense.
All in all, this is an extravagant production with an aesthetically-pleasing use of costume (Brigid Guy) and set (Simon Scullion). You don’t have to be a Christie stalwart to appreciate it, and for those who know the story well, it manages to continually surprise with its spectacular staging.