For the Love of Christie: Review of Genesian Theatre’s Murder on the Nile
Agatha Christie wrote the Hercule Poirot novel Death on the Nile in 1937 and later adapted it for stage with the reworked title Murder on the Nile in 1944. The crucial difference was that the character of Poirot was replaced by one Canon Pennyfather. For both however, the steamboat ‘Lotus’ sailing on the river becomes the setting for this classic whodunit. For those unfamiliar with Murder on the Nile, directed by Nanette Frew, a brief précis of the plot: Simon and Kay Mostyn are on their honeymoon. The only problem is that they’re being stalked by Simon’s former fiancé Jaqueline. Simon and Jaqueline were both very much in love but penniless. In an attempt to get work Jaqueline asked her wealthy friend Kay to give Simon a job, however the two fell in love and Jaqueline was jilted. She confides to Canon that she would like nothing better than to get revenge on the pair and that she even carries a revolver with her now, waiting for an opportunity. Three days later she gets into an alcohol induced argument with Simon and shoots him, albeit only in the leg. She is sedated and taken to her room. However, only minutes later Kay is found dead in her cabin, and so begins the investigation.
Transferring Agatha Christie to performance has proved to be a difficult task. True, on film with the brilliant David Suchet the series has maintained a very popular following. On stage though there seems to be less space for scene and action to take place as the play is largely confined to long sections of exposition which threaten to drag the production into a rather dull place. As to working out whodunit there’s really only one character with any motive (outside of the obvious red herring). Nevertheless, whilst it may not be difficult to decide who the killer is, the logistics of how it was pulled off will leave audiences guessing until the last minute.
Lilianna Komljenovic as Jacqueline was very watchable, with good consistent volume and a fantastic face for stage. Looking like something straight out of television’s Poirot, Komljenovic played her role well, hitting all the emotional and humorous marks with zeal.
Michael Barnacoat as Canon Pennyfather was a particular standout due to his excellent stage craft and flawless diction. He seemed perfectly comfortable on stage, committing to his role with cool professionalism. Barnacoat is a presence which makes for an enjoyable experience.
Vincent O’Neill as Dr Bessner was aesthetically perfect for the role, yet delivered his dialogue in a speedy triple count pace – and continued to do so throughout the entire production. Whilst he managed some funny moments, the constant and unchanging rhythm became highly frustrating to listen to, because it didn’t mirror any identifiable speech pattern. O’Neill could benefit from slowing down, and thinking through the dialogue further.
Lachlan McNab as Simon Mostyn held his own well amongst a cast of older actors. He was always audible and managed the humour with the drama. Whilst at times McNab seemed to be straining his voice (especially during emotional sequences) McNab gave a perfectly credible performance as the handsome yet penniless husband of Kay.
Martin Estridge as William Smith (the loveable rogue) was easily a crowd favourite. Estridge dominated the comic moments and delivered punchlines well. However, when not performing the comedy, he appeared to be on stage simply in anticipation of the next joke. Estridge, whilst not producing a weak performance, could benefit from concentrating on being in the scene.
From a character perspective, Ros Richards as Miss ffoliot-ffoulkes was easily the most impressive. It has been said that Murder Mysteries with heavy dialogue require a flamboyant and melodramatic twist, and Richards did this fantastically. As the crazy snob of an Aunt, Richards can’t be faulted. It is simply a shame that other performances didn’t attempt to mimic her angle.
As a side note, Owen Gimblett’s set is a delight, but then the Genesian always tends to have nice sets. The steamship, ‘Lotus’ looks the part of 1930s décor with working smokestack to boot. Likewise, the costumes and soundtrack were all well picked which helped to create a genuine atmosphere.
Overall, the Genesian has again strategically catered to their audience, making for a perfectly pleasant evening of theatre. This style of theatre may not do much to attract the younger theatre goers though.
You can catch the murder at the Genesian Theatre until the 5th of October. For more information, or booking tickets see: http://www.genesiantheatre.com.au/