Murder on the Nile by Agatha Christie - directed by Leila Francis
"Murder on the Nile is Agatha Christie's own stage adaptation of her novel Death on the Nile, she has removed Hercule Poirot from the play and the detective role is taken up by Canon Pennefather. This was a simple but effectively staged production, as always with Agatha Christie there are always so many red herrings, that I didn't remember 'who dun it' until the third act. The cast kept us on our toes from the start with the Bead Seller's coming through the audience, right through to the final denouement. The diction of the cast was clear, and the whole production had no problems with sound and dialogue, apart from a few prompts, Louise's French accent was very good, as was Dr. Bessner. The characters who most suited their roles were Jacqueline de Severac as the ex intent on murder, Miss ffoliot-ffoulkes, wonderfully snobbish, Smith the incognito Lord, Dr Bessner the German doctor, also the niece Cristina Grant. A mention here for the Steward who was wonderfully obsequious and always had the correct native smile on his face. Props were kept simple, although pink gin should look the colour, even if it is only water, the simple and effective set was matched by good costumes, wigs, together with good lighting and sound effects. Over all this was an enjoyable afternoon's entertainment."
Leslie Judd-National Operatic and Dramatic Association---------------------
"General It is good that I always leave plenty of time to arrive at places I have not visited previously, as it took me over twenty minutes to find you! This was entirely my own fault, as I failed to ask for a map, since I was convinced that I knew where I was going.---------------------
Front of House Having found you, I was warmly welcomed by no lesser person than the Chairman himself, with whom I had the chance to have a good conversation in the interval about your premises problems. I liked the dressing of Front of House staff in costumes of the period of the play. I also particularly liked, and this is the first time I have come across this, the wearing of name badges. I think this is an excellent piece of public relations and not only identifies people as belonging to the company, but it is also nice to know to whom one is speaking.
Set The stage was set with open curtains and followed closely the layout in the script. The doors on the downstage entrances were omitted, presumably for logistical reasons, and the entrances and exits were made directly to the wings. I can understand the omission of the doors, but the script called for cast members approaching the stage to be seen through windows; for certain entrances, I felt that this omission took away some of the drama from the situation. Generally the set was simple but effective. Having the set on view before curtain-up can be an interesting feature.
Props These all seemed to be in keeping.
Stage Management Everything seemed to work smoothly, but I found the scene changing in the blackouts to be distracting.
Costume Excellent. All the costumes were appropriate to the period (even thought I note that the script does not specify a period!). I couldn't put my finger on any weak links, but I hated the blonde and black wigs! Well done.
Direction I sometimes find it difficult to decide how much to say under this heading and how much under the individual performances; however, here goes.
I have very mixed feelings over Agatha Christie plays. The fact that they can be done on television with professional casts and be successful does not necessarily mean that the same can be said for amateur productions. They are notoriously difficult to do, because there is so much plot to be set in the early scenes that there is a tendency for the audience to go to sleep if this is not done well by a strong cast. Because of the period in which they were written, some of the language and references do not sit easily with modern audiences (or casts) and finally, most people have read the books and are therefore likely to know what is coming. In over fifty years of association with the stage I have never been in or directed an Agatha Christie play, for all these reasons and more!
That said, what I am leading up to is that unfortunately, for various reasons, you did not manage to overcome these problems in this production.
Looking on the positive side, I liked the initial entrance of the bead sellers from FOH. I liked their energy, but this was not then transferred to the remainder of the cast on the stage I liked the positioning of the characters on stage throughout and I noted many small instances of directorial input.
Cast Bead Sellers I will not split them. A good performance, which held up throughout. There was not a lot of dialogue in the script and I was pleased to see some good extemporisation without a constant repetition of the script.
Steward. I just wonder why Reg chose to make this character a member of the "Ministry Of Silly Walks". My feeling is that as (presumably) chief steward he would have had a much more assured pose, even though deferential. It is certainly not a comic character, or a scene stealer! Some of his entrances were late; only by a fraction of a second, but this was enough to break up the momentum.
Miss ffoliot-ffoulkes. Although when I read the script I pictured this part as a thin ascetic lady, the actual casting worked well and Paulette managed to impart the arrogance and aloofness required without overdoing the comedy. Although I would have liked a little more of the haughtiness, after a slightly doubtful start this was a nice performance.
Christina Grant. Another nice performance. One of the few good characterisations. A little stronger voice production would not go amiss.
Smith. A very weird character (in the script) and a very difficult one to play. It took me some time to come round to liking Daniel's performance -- one of the few with an excellent stage voice. To anyone not having read the script, the early appearances seem incomprehensible, but Daniel coped very well. Maybe a slightly more laid back and scruffily casual approach perhaps with more emphasis on the "passionate socialist" theme, rather than the brusqueness used, would have helped the audience.
Louise A very good consistent performance with some nice subtle touches of character, which I found appealing. A good voice which could have been a little stronger and an excellent attempt at keeping up the accent throughout.
Dr Bessner. I would have jumped at doing this character part. I pictured him as much more teutonically brusque and with a much stronger accent Although Ivor made a good stab at it, this was one of the parts which slowed down the play. A very quiet voice did not help the audience to hear all the words. Nevertheless, not one of the worst performances.
Kay. Excellent. Just the right characterisation and appearance. A nice stage presence, and a lovely performance with plenty of feeling. Well done.
Simon. He seemed to have a complete inability to look other characters in the eye, and, because he spent so much time sitting behind the table (why, when the script calls for the blood-covered handkerchief to be visible?) he effectively became insignificant in the most important parts of the play. He rarely raised his head and his voice production was virtually non-existent. The premise of the play depends on the passion between Simon, Kay and Jacqui and I did not detect this.
Pennefather. A great character! If Syd had got to grips with it this could have been one of the highlights. This part has the field open. He can dictate, largely, the pace and direction of the whole play. He takes charge. He is an identifiable character. Syd is visually imposing and should have been able to take the part by storm. His stage presence is good, even though he stoops on account of his height and his voice is good although his diction is poor -- some ends of sentences were difficult to pick up. What let him down was a slow delivery and some slowness on cues (possibly searching for lines?). This slowed the dialogue up. I would have liked to have seen this after a few more performances and with different people around him.
Jacquline. It is obvious that Liz is an excellent actress in all departments, although I find her exaggerated "dramatic stances" and gestures a little off-putting. As I said before, though, on listening to the part it came over very well.
McNaught. A great little cameo by Geoff."
Ian Crisp-North West Essex Theatre Guild
""MAY I tell you how it all happened?"
The murderer fills us in on the details, in Agatha Christie's play revived by Phoenix sixty years after it first opened in the West End.
No Poirot, but a softly spoken priest Syd Smith, best in homily mode and a paddle-steamer crammed with suspicious characters.
Would you trust the sinister German doctor (Ivor Jeavons) or the "socialistic" Smith, played with excellent timing by Daniel Curley.
Equally successful on the comedy front was Paulette Harris as the formidable Miss ffoliot-ffoulkes. Names, and accents, something of a stumbling block in this show
I liked the way Liz Curley sent up her role (pistol-packing jilted girlfriend) ever so slightly, in her black bob wig a Beryl Cook to Emma Beckett's elegant Modigliani. Emma's was the most believable performance of them all in some other cases the casting did not help us suspend our disbelief.
The design was effective, the costumes brilliantly done, giving Leila Francis's production a glossy period feel. A little more pace, and a willingness to go a little more over the top, would have made for an even more enjoyable voyage to Abu Simbel."
Michael Gray-Weekly News
For awards received for this play see "Murder on the Nile"
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