Theatre Royal, 3rd-8th November
Put together a rather tall Poirot, lots of jokes about being ‘foreign’, and half the cast speaking in oddly-accented English and you get this production Agatha Christie’s Black Coffee.
With its length of two hours and fifteen minutes in three acts and two intermissions, Black Coffee certainly drags at times, particularly since there is much talking and little action in the first two acts. In a typical Christie novel you find yourself hanging on to the every word spoken so as to decipher the puzzle yourself, but this evening the suspense and tension is lacking. When humor does come into it, this is through Christie’s own writing – “He is a doctor?” “Yes, but only an Italian one” – rather than with credit to the acting or timing on the part of the cast (for example, Poirot’s over-the-top shivering drew half-hearted laughter from the audience) At one point, I was perilously coming close to no longer caring whodunit anymore.
I have gobbled up volumes of Christie’s books in the past, and feel that compared to her other works this particular revelation lacks the typical sort of punch that makes you go “ohhhhhh” when you finally find out the truth. Though true to form in terms of detective-story plots and dénouements, a lack of ingenuity in the performance of the culprit in question makes this a weak conclusion to the play – much so when contrasted with The Mousetrap, another one of Christie’s theatre creations.
It is still, however, an immense joy to see Poirot brought to life, with his quirky mannerisms and stiff moustache. It is Hastings, however, who wins the hearts of the audience, with a shyness and awkwardness around Barbara which is played to perfection.
Overall this is an enjoyable play, but with little to offer to anyone who is not already a Christie fan, as its primary pleasures are found more in the satisfaction of seeing familiar and beloved characters brought to life on the stage.
[Karen Cheung – @karenklcheung]