Murder on the Nile is the ninth outing for the Offical Agatha Christie Theatre Company, and this week brought this exotic tale of jealousy, greed, and revenge on board a luxury river steamer to the Oxford Playhouse.
Those who remember seeing Peter Ustinov in the film of Death on the Nile may be surprised to discover that Poirot doesn't put in an appearance: Christie apparently had doubts about putting her famous Belgian detective on the stage, and tended to write him out when adapting her own work for the theatre. The Poirot-replacement here is the kindly but knowing Canon Pennefather, played with aplomb by Robert Duncan.
Duncan is the undisputed star of the show, at its heart both intellectually and emotionally – he keeps the pace up and the plot moving forward, and provides a genial focal point among a collection of sometimes not entirely likeable characters. There are also some creditable performances from elsewhere in the cast: Jennifer Bryden and Max Hutchinson provide some nice proto-romantic tension as the put-upon Christina Grant and devil-may-care William Smith; Ben Nealon carries off the tricky role of kept husband Simon Mostyn with flair, and Mark Wynter is charming as the affable Dr Bessner. It's a little unfortunate that there are also some slightly weaker links in the chain: Christie's rather mannered dialogue can sometimes be hard to bring to life and to deliver naturally, and there are times when a number of members of the company don't quite succeed in achieving this. As a result, the piece lacks a certain sparkle overall.
Christie's plotting is as ingenious as ever, however, and even those of us who know what the outcome will be because we've read the book can enjoy the unfolding of the mystery and have fun spotting the clues as they're dropped. The technical aspects of the production are as slick and professional as one would expect in a tour of this calibre, with an impressive set and some lovely costumes.
This probably isn't the sort of theatre that will move you to tears, or lead you to startling new insights about the human condition, but for murder mystery fans, it's a pleasantly entertaining way to spend an evening.
- Meriel Patrick