Review: Agatha Christie's Black Coffee with Robert Powell at Theatre Royal Bath
POIROT – the great inspector we have all come to know and, some of us love, has once again been reinvented this time by well-known actor Robert Powell.
Just weeks after David Suchet’s long television association with Agatha Christie’s fastidious detective ended, the Jesus of Nazareth star has brought Poirot back to life in the author’s first play, Black Coffee.
Powell, also well known for the 1990s series The Detectives alongside Jasper Carrott and as Mark Williams in Holby City, appeared to relish the chance to play such a distinctive character with many meticulous traits it would be a crime not to embellish.
He does so amiably, with more comedy than we are used to on our TV screens, allowing his body language to tell plenty of the story right up until his final ‘I told you so’ look to the audience.
Adopting the unmistakable Belgian accent of Hercule, Powell’s little grey cells haven’t been troubled too much by the role but he does bring with it more likeability than audiences may be used to, despite the same smugness Christie no doubt intended.
The play itself is set, surprise surprise, in an elegant manor house belonging to the Amory family in 1929. The Agatha Christie Theatre Company has surpassed itself with a stunning, art deco set (Simon Scullion) and sumptuous gowns (Nikki Bird) perfect for the period.
Set in just one room where, as it happens, the only murder of the play, poisoning, takes place in darkness, Poirot works promptly and precisely to uncover who needs his help and who should face his tenacious questioning.
Liza Goddard is deliciously nosy as Caroline, sister of our victim Sir Claud (Ric Recate), utilising a wonderfully shrill, upperclass voice to great effect including many humorous references to ‘foreigners’.
Robin McCallum as the generally confused Captain Hastings is almost a like-for-like portrayal of his television counterpart, loveable nonetheless, and Ben Nealon, of Soldier Soldier fame, makes a convincing honest son Richard.
Although this may not be the most difficult crime to uncover, and many in the audience had copped the murderer before the second of two intervals, Black Coffee remains a good old-fashioned and fun whodunit, with a few twists and turns along the way, the unravelling of characters and an excuse for Poirot to show us just how clever he is. And the Agatha Christie Theatre Company has made this production particularly slick and stylish.
Black Coffee is on at Bath’s Theatre Royal until Saturday, February 1.
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