Murder On The Nile at Glasgow’s Theatre Royal cruises along in second gear

Murder she wrote:  A shot rings out on board and one of the passengers lies dead-but whodunit?
Murder she wrote: A shot rings out on board and one of the passengers lies dead-but whodunit?

The best-selling novelist of all time according to the Guinness Book of Records, Agatha Christie’s reputation as the First Lady of Crime still remains intact today. Even if the world she wrote about, despite the murderous goings on, seems somewhat quaint now to modern eyes.

In Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, Christie created two of crime’s most legendary sleuths. Indeed it was Poirot who solved the case here in the 1937 novel Death On The Nile, until Christie rewrote it for the stage under the title, Murder On The Nile, and gave him the boot in favour of Canon Ambrose Pennefeather. (The novel had originally started out as the draft of a play called Moon On The Nile).

Originally produced on stage at Dundee in 1944, the whodunit takes on a luxury steamer sailing up the Nile. Here e a group of well- heeled European travellers soon become embroiled in the murder on board that inevitably follows.

As with all jigsaw puzzles all the pieces have to be laid out first. So one by one all the major players in the mystery, directed by Joe Harmston for the Agatha Christie Theatre Company, make their way on board.

Kate O’Mara’s  grand dame, Miss ffoliot-ffoulkes is treating her great niece Christina, (Jennifer Bryden) to some sightseeing. Newlweds Kay Mostyn, (Susie Amy), and her hubby Simon, (Ben Nealon,) are on their honeymoon, but unfortunately being dogged by Simon’s jilted fiancé Jacqueline de Severac (Chloe Newsome).

Another surprising connection on board comes in the shape of Denis Lill’s Canon Pennefeather, Kay’s guardian. Making up the rest of the travellers are Dr Bessner, played by 60s pop idol Mark Wynter, Vanessa Morley’s French maid, Louise, and the plainly named, and opinionated young man, William Smith, (Max Hutchison), whose sniping at the upper classes would suggest a working class firebrand. But this is Agatha Christie, where appearances of course, can most definitely be deceptive.

The suspects, and sleuths for the murder that will soon follow on board, rounded up, we then set sail on what seems like a very long cruise along the Nile. Well, the first half seems very long indeed, Harmston’s production crawling along at snail’s pace and lacking in tension. Which for any thriller is a definite no-no.

An unusually long set change during the first half, (where the set didn’t change at all-after all the characters are stuck on board ship and the production played out entirely on deck), didn’t help matters, with half the audience out of their seats and heading for the exit before the show got going again. 

The soporific nature of the production as it cruises along in second gear seems to have affected the cast, with most of the performances being telephoned in. Kate O’Mara injects some larger- than- life,grand dame, haughty humour whenever she’s on stage. But Lill’s amateur sleuth, Canon Pennefeather, had me pining for Poirot. And quite how Simon Mostyn managed to get two women to fall in love with him is a mystery in itself, with Nealon making him as wet as the Nile. Caricatures Christie’s characters may be, but that doesn’t mean you have to play them quite so one dimensionally as the cast do here.

Entertaining enough in its own way for those who like Christie whodunnits, but the company has produced better in the past.        

Murder On The Nile, theatre Royal, Glasgow until Sat. Tel: 0844 871 7647

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