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Christie's first play still charms 80 years on

By West Briton  |  Posted: April 17, 2014

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Black Coffee The Agatha Christie Theatre Company Hall For Cornwall

Review by Lee Trewhela

DID you realise that when she died in 1976 Agatha Christie was only outsold by the Bible and Shakespeare?

That enduring love of the lady who basically invented the modern whodunnit shows no signs of abating – this company, for instance, stages one of her works annually and sells out across the country as a result.

Its productions of Witness For The Prosecution and Murder On The Nile have already proved a hit at the Hall For Cornwall.

This time it was Poirot and the first play Christie ever wrote. Apparently, so dismayed was she with other portrayals of her Belgian detective that she decided to give him the dramatic treatment herself.

Robert Powell has made a habit of playing iconic characters – from Jesus to Mahler – and he made a decent fist of Poirot, though, apart from the moustache, his appearance differed from the traditional egg-shaped head and slicked hair. Performing with a glint in his eye, Powell certainly made the character more likeable than usual – even his creator described Poirot as an "egocentric little creep". He's ably assisted by a large group of actors, from the familiar (Liza Goddard) to the new (Felicity Houlbrooke stood out as an excitable flapper intent on ensnaring her "pet", Captain Hastings, an endearingly buttoned-up turn by Robin McCallum).

The story itself isn't as clever as it thinks it is, like many of Christie's works, but it has its charms and is entertaining throughout.

The trouble with a play first staged in 1930 is that it calls for the heightened style of acting associated with that era which, at times, can grate. However, it has aged surprisingly well with its sly digs at British racism and a questioning of the nuclear age. You'll be surprised how often you laugh, too.

Black Coffee continues its run until Saturday.

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