Historic Egypt. Warring couples, intrigue, power struggles and even murder. Though set against the backdrop of the ancient temples this isn’t the tale of some Pharaohic dynasty, but the passengers on 1930s Nile cruiser Lotus.
For newlyweds Simon and Kay Mostyn, Egypt seems the perfect destination for their honeymoon. Simon’s jilted fiancée Jacqueline, however, seems intent on disrupting their joy, following them from location to location. Fleeing to a cruise ship down the mighty Nile seems an ideal way to escape Jacqueline’s manic pursuit, but of course this would make for somewhat a dull drama. The trio therefore find themselves joining the good ship Lotus’ already eclectic passenger list.
The glamorous Miss ffoliot-ffoulkes (just never cross her by spelling with a capital F), is holding court on board and terrorising her niece, Christina. Young William Smith seems to have his own secret that he’s determined to keep to himself and Kay’s guardian, the Cannon Pennefather, has his own unorthodox approach to clerical fundraising. Add in a mysterious doctor, a devoted servant, and the cruise ship crew, the confines of the Nile Cruiser and relentless heat of Egypt create the perfect pressure cooker. A gunshot and a body is just the start of a classic Christie ‘whodunnit?’
Of course, any review of an Agatha Christie has to steer as careful a course as those piloting a Nile Cruiser, careful to avoid any plot spoilers. Suffice to say, this is typical Christie with enough clues, twists and red herrings to keep amateur sleuths guessing to the very end.
For those more familiar with the film adaptation Death On The Nile there are some key differences, most notably the exclusion of Hercule Poirot. The smaller cast for the stage production versus the film however, focuses the drama.
Joe Harmston’s direction makes full use of Simon Scullion’s 1930s Nile cruiser set, allowing each of the passengers to reveal just a hint of their character while retaining enough mystery.
As the honeymooning couple, Susie Amy and Ben Nealon, work well, with some real chemistry but also that feeling of a newlywed couple still discovering their boundaries. Chloe Newsome’s jilted Jacqueline is nicely portrayed, a mix of hurt and bubbling revenge it is a role that could easily be overplayed but Newsome gives a nicely controlled portrayal.
Kate O’Mara is suitably glamorous and acerbic as Miss ffoliot-ffoulkes, incredulous that a murder is detracting from her attention. There’s also fine work from Jennifer Bryden as her put-upon niece who is also coming to turns with the affections of Max Hutchinson’s William Smith, a man with his own secrets.
As the reluctant investigator Cannon Pennefather, Denis Lill perhaps lacks the charisma of a Poirot-like character but the process of discovery becomes more believable.
There are moments when the company need to pay some attention to projection and pace but, overall, this is a well-conceived classic Christie. There’s nothing radical here but, for a play that’s fast sailing towards its 70th anniversary, that’s not surprising. The ‘whodunnit’ in many ways belongs to a bygone age but nobody writes them quite like Agatha Christie and this production by the theatre company that bears her name more than does it justice. And before you ask – no the butler didn’t do it.
Originally written for The Public Reviews