Something New: Murder on the Nile

No I have not decided to try a bit of murder, I am of course referring to the legend that is Agatha Christie and to her well-loved story Murder on the Nile. Showing in the Gaiety Theatre between 29th October and 3rd November 2012 the production was put together by the Agatha Christie Theatre Company. So naturally I had high hopes.

Murder on the Nile

The story itself has gone through many incarnations during its time. In 1935, Christie wrote what was the first draft and called it Moon on the Nile. This draft included the famous Belgian detective Poirot. Christie was not feeling it however and decided to give Poirot the heave-ho while expanding the other characters and tweaking the story. In 1942 she was finally happy with the story and in 1944 the play was produced in theatre in Dundee. In 1946 the production was taken up in the West End and the Ambassadors Theatre.  It was later made into a film in 1978 called Death on the Nile.

The story is simple. A group of people decide to take a holiday on a paddle steamer “Lotus on the Nile” which is sailing between Shellal and Wadi Halfa in Egypt. There is some murderous shenanigans and the guests have to figure out who the killer is.

This production by the Agatha Christie Theatre Company boasted quite a few recognisable actors, most recognisable for me was Nichola McAuliffe and Susie Amy. I was delighted to learn that Jennifer Bryden who played Christina Grant, was the voice of the female hero in Fable III, which is one of my favourite games. Other actors who I personally was not familiar with had long CVs detailing many years work in theatre, including many Christie plays.

My favourite things about the production itself were the set and the wardrobe. The stage was designed like the decking of a ship’s viewing area. It had a second level and plenty of doors which allowed for ease of entrance and exit for the actors. It was very well set up and quite pretty. With the backdrop of the splendid Gaiety Theatre it felt like a play in times of old and I loved it. There was also a fully stocked “bar” as the guests continued to order drinks throughout the whole story line. It was a wonder that there was a murder at all with all the booze flowing.

The set and costumes

The set and costumes

The costumes were also fantastic. I was delighted to see that they had decided to stay true to the era. They were exquisitely done. In particular I loved the brightness and fluffiness of Miss ffoliot-ffoulkes gowns which Nichola McAuliffe made full use of, sweeping about the stage. An honourable mention also goes to Susie Amy’s glamorous heiress (Kay Mostyn) evening gown which was delightful. The men were all very dapper and and smart including the employees on the boat. They really set the scene of this 1930s era and brought Christie’s world to light.

The comic timing of the actors was also really great. Yes it is a play about a murder but they did a good job of drawing out Christie’s humour and cleverness. It can be quite subtle humour which made it all the more fun to spot.

My main issue with the production was the sound quality. We were not at the front of the theatre but were by no means at the back and we really struggled to hear anything. Thank goodness my companions were familiar with the story or else we all would have been terribly lost. There was a lot of muttering, talking to the back of the stage and speed talking which did not help with the projection of the sound. My only other issue was that some of the performances boarded on panto at times. Yes there was the “actors walk” and the fake “flicking through magazines”. It did calm down in the second half but it did look quite amateur at times in the first act. Some actors were more guilty of it than others so maybe it was just how they decided to play the characters and was not particularly to my taste.

Agatha Christie

The story itself has aged very badly in places. I cringed every time one of the guests summoned an employee by calling them “boy”. It was like cotton wool on teeth. Also the notion of an heiress only coming into her fortune when she is 25 or married and hanging for the death penalty. But I am very glad that these plot points were left in. They are stark reminders of how the world worked and we would do well to remember it and make sure that it does not happen again. Or in the case of the death penalty finally be outlawed everywhere.

Overall however it was almost creepy how fitting it was to modern times and how appropriate it was for the world we are living in at the moment. The dialogue condemning reckless bankers, the world of finance, corporations exploiting developing nations and harsh prison sentence for economic rioters were eerily familiar. Any of these plots could be taken from the 6 o’clock news today. Also money dominated the lives of her characters including those who have too much to those who lost it all.  Here is a snippet from the play which the programme says has a great example of this:

Character X: “The little man with no work, the man who protests in the street, he would be sent to prison – but the big man with the cigar, buying and selling companies, countries – he can rob and cheat and stay inside the law.”

In the 30s there were riots against the Egyptian government, the effects of the market crash of 1929 were being felt and many of the same problems that we are facing today manifested back then.

To finish it was a fun evening with a serious undertone. I would recommend going to see it, if it comes around again, but do sit close to the stage or bring an ear trumpet.

If you are interested in learning more about Murder on the Nile

You can get the book Death on the Nile in paperback from Amazon.

You can also get the 1978 movie and even a puzzle game based on the story.



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