As the lights dim in the auditorium, the air is filled with sounds that immediately take the audience from a cold and wintery Sussex to the dry, dusty heat of Egypt. The curtain then rises to reveal the observation deck of the paddle steamer Lotus, which is being prepared for a voyage that promises so much to the assembling passengers – and even more to the eager amateur detectives waiting to see what events unfold.
Ready to greet the tourists onboard are Harun, the boat steward Sydney Smith and Musa Hambi Pappas, the over-enthusiastic souvenir seller with a fabulous supply of trinkets and an even better line in “British” phrases to entice tourists to part with their money. The first passengers to arrive are the wonderfully toffee-nosed Miss ffoliot-ffoulkes [Kate O’Mara] , who is devastated to discover that the passenger list has her name spelled with capital letters, accompanied by the woman she uses as a personal dogsbody, her niece Christina Jennifer Bryden.
Following them down the gangway is the usual assortment of Christie characters – the young workers’ champion William Smith Max Hutchinson, the aged Dr Bessmer Mark Wynter and Dennis Lill as the charitable Canon Pennefather. From the outset it appears that all may not be as it seems, and careful attention has to be paid in order to spot the occasional clue that may help to eventually identify the villain of the piece.
The next passengers to arrive – the central characters in the plot – are wealthy heiress Kay Mostyn Susie Amy and her new (and now suddenly wealthy) husband Simon Ben Nealon who have with them their French maid Louise Vanessa Morley. The final character to make an appearance is Jacqueline De Severac, played by Chloe Newsome. She is Simon’s recently-ditched fiancée, who has been following them in a rather sinister way throughout their honeymoon, and now arrives to ensure that their cruise will also be a tense affair.
The single paddle steamer set and the various authentic sounds, together with the almost constant mopping of sweaty brows and necks, ensures that there is a real feeling of the searing heat and almost claustrophobic location which gives extra intensity to the piece. Character development in the first act is simply superb and, by the time the dastardly deed is done, a number of passengers have displayed reasons to be considered as suspects.
In Act Two the plot twists and turns with frightening rapidity with the seemingly guilty soon deemed as innocent and the meek and mild taking no time to reveal murderous tendencies. Of course, the final scene offers the solution that so many in the audience had not seen coming and the reaction was suitably enthusiastic for such a brilliantly executed piece.