New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 31st October, 2016
Running in the West End since 1952, the touring production of Agatha Christie’s celebrated play started a few years back and is still doing the rounds. It’s my third time seeing it but knowing ‘who done it’ means you can spot the clues, false trails and red herrings Christie builds in. The characters are drawn in broad strokes – it seems to me the playing seems more heightened this time round – and the situation is contrived for maximum tension: a mixed bag of guests arrive at a newly-opened, remote guest house, find themselves snowed in and cut off, while the radio gives word of a murderer at large… It’s a kind of cosy chiller, if that’s not an oxymoron. A bit of old cheese that can still entrap an audience.
Nick Barclay and Anna Andresen are likable enough as the proprietors, Giles and Mollie Ralston. He treads the thin line between decent cove and out-and-out boor; she is spirited and keen and, above all, domesticated. Christie gives us three types of female here: the pleasant, obliging Mrs Ralston, the formidable battle-ax Mrs Boyle (Sarah Whitlock getting her teeth into the role) and unconventional modern girl, Miss Casewell (Amy Downham) who flouts decency by wearing trousers.
Oliver Gully gives an energised performance as camp extrovert (read: homosexual) Christopher Wren and does more than scream his way through the part. Gully also manages to evoke sympathy as he alludes to the rough treatment he has received because of who he is. That homosexuality is regarded as a mental aberration by the like of Mrs Boyle is an attitude I hope is consigned to the past…
Tony Boncza’s Major Metcalf is a fine spot of character acting. Also, Gregory Cox as the ‘unexpected foreigner’ Mr Paravicini pulls out all the stops in an outlandish depiction, falling short of actually chewing the scenery. Lewis Collier’s Sgt Trotter gets the tone right but sometimes his accent muddies his diction and we lose some of his lines.
It adds up to a lot of fun. Director Ian Watt-Smith brings out more laughs than you might expect – especially during the first half before the murderer makes a move. Christie keeps us suspecting everyone in turn before the moment of revelation.
I suppose the show’s enduring appeal is that it’s a throwback to an England that never really existed (the Shangri-La that Brexit voters seem to hanker for) and I’d like to think it’s something of a museum piece and the xenophobic and anti-gay sentiments expressed are all behind us now… If only!!
Dramatically, the play still works and this is a solid, well-mounted production that is reliably entertaining. See it if you haven’t already. If you have, it’s worth a second look, although perhaps not a third.