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David Suchet – Poirot and More, A Retrospective at Chichester Festival Theatre – review

The show is on tour ahead of a West End ru

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

© Ash Koek

In the change of a single lighting cue, Sir David Suchet is back as Salieri – as astonishing over 20 years later as it was the first time around at the Old Vic. Suchet is consumed by the pain that sears through the conflicted composer as he speaks of hearing God through the music of his young nemesis whom he so despises. Even with no set, costume or real preparation Suchet fully inhabits the brief scene and demonstrates without so much as breaking into a sweat just why he is one of this country's finest actors.

Recently knighted for his contribution to drama Suchet is hitting the road with Poirot and More: A Retrospective – this ahead of a short West End run at the Harold Pinter in the New Year. It's a career of more than 50 years and has seen Suchet tackle some iconic roles. His preference – he freely admits – is for complex characters of which he has had no shortage.

He talks briefly of his upbringing and his first foray onto the stage at the age of eight in Alice through the Looking Glass at school. His post-war upbringing led him to boarding school where his headmaster was the first to spot his talent and flag it up with his parents. His supportive mother and grandmother are fondly spoken of as the driving force to nurture his talent – despite his surgeon father not thinking that acting was a "real profession."

Training with such contemporaries as Helen Mirren, Brian Cox and Martin Shaw, he was in good company as he bounded into the good old days of Rep before swiftly moving onto the RSC and a speedy climb up the ladder to lead roles. This is an actor that has worked for his position in the pantheon of the greats – that's for sure.

The evening itself – the first half in particular – is somewhat lifeless. Friend and colleague Geoffrey Wansell acts as a faux interviewer of sorts with a very obviously scripted meander through Suchet's career. His occasional prompts propel Suchet into his next anecdote whilst Wansell looks on with mild disinterest. It's an unnecessary distraction as the main man exudes enough charm and eloquence to carry the evening on his own – Ian Mckellen's recent 80 year retrospective expertly demonstrated how this can work quite brilliantly.

On the occasions that Suchet is left alone he shines. A large section of the second half turns into more university lecture than reminiscences of the past. For some this will be hard going, but for many, this will be like the greatest acting master class one could ever wish for. He expertly weaves his way through the language of Shakespeare via iambic pentameter, alliteration and onomatopoeia. Here is where things begin to take off though. Speeches from A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Tempest, The Merchant of Venice and Macbeth leave you hanging on his every word and desperately wanting more.

Then of course there is Poirot. It's a character that Suchet regards as his best friend and aside from the illustrious acting career that has nothing to do with Agatha Christie it is the small Belgian Detective for whom he is synonymous. He is happy with that fact and is content at where it has led him. As a perfect finale, this fine actor allows us a glimpse into his process as he morphs into the iconic sleuth. The moustache, the walk and the voice – all meticulously examined to the most fastidious detail. It's a privilege to watch.

Regardless of the clunky structure in which the evening sits, it is always a treat to see Suchet perform. He has that rare transportive quality about him and a voice that could soothe the jangling nerves of anybody in this jarring world we live. He is gentle, supremely professional and captivating to watch. Although an uneven night, the highs are absolutely worth the moderate lows.