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REVIEW: Murder on the Nile by Water Lane Theatre Company at Rhodes

Richard Pink as Canon Pennefather and Hannah Juggins as Kay Mostyn (8165150)
Richard Pink as Canon Pennefather and Hannah Juggins as Kay Mostyn (8165150)

Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Nile, a reworking of her earlier novel Death on the Nile, shares the same plot but with an entirely new set of characters and a new sleuth who is about as un-Poirot as you can get.

We join the action as honeymooners Kay and Simon Mostyn embark on the Nile steamer Lotus. They are apparently being stalked by Simon’s ex-girlfriend, Jacqueline de Severac, jilted by Simon when he met Kay. In truth Simon and Jacqui have plotted from the outset to get their hands on Kay’s inheritance by murdering her on her honeymoon, and die she does – but with Simon apparently disabled in a shooting accident and Jacqui sedated in her cabin, who dunnit?

Hannah-Marie Juggins was perfect as Kay, the spoiled society girl who couldn’t understand poverty. As well as the delicious lines given to her by Christie, Hannah-Marie had the deportment and look that positively oozed finishing school.

Michael Beavan was equally skilled in his portrayal of a public school duffer, raising suspicion from the outset, despite his bumbling, that far from being useless at everything he is involved with dark goings-on, but what are they?

Becky Faulkner as Jacqueline de Severac and Richard Pink as Cannon Pennefather (8165156)
Becky Faulkner as Jacqueline de Severac and Richard Pink as Cannon Pennefather (8165156)

Becky Faulkner brought the neurotic Jacqui to life, never missing an opportunity to persuade us, by an unnerving ability to make eye contact with the stalls, that there was something just a little unbalanced about her character.

As an amusing sub-plot we also meet Miss ffoliot-ffoulkes, played by Amanda Green, the epitome of snobbery and unfulfilled bitterness, whom we disliked more and more as the play progressed. Christina (Lisa Turpcu), her niece and dogsbody, needs saving by the right man, and this turned out to be William Smith, a communist who also happens to be a peer of the realm, travelling incognito and looking for an honest woman.

Paul Winspear, perfectly typecast as Smith, the perpetual finisher of everyone else’s abandoned drinks, had most of the humorous material that kept the play from being too dark. His excellent comedic timing amused the audience but horrified Miss ff-ff, who could not conceal her revulsion when he determined to marry her niece and make her Mrs Smith. Oh, how Miss ff-ff changed when she discovered his true identity! And, oh, how our dislike grew!

Paul Winspear as William Smith, Andy Roberts as Dr Bessner and Greg Hill as a beadseller (8165152)
Paul Winspear as William Smith, Andy Roberts as Dr Bessner and Greg Hill as a beadseller (8165152)

Gunshot injuries and death must have a doctor in attendance, and Andy Roberts treated us to a terrific Teutonic take-off in the form of Dr Bessner, a well-fed version of Germanic rectitude, complete with Charlie Chaplin moustache.

In his immaculate white uniform, Captain McNaught looked like a man who would much rather be in a boiler suit than dealing with his passengers, a delightful cameo role perfectly suited to Doug Sheppard.

Doug Sheppard as Captain McNaught (8165154)
Doug Sheppard as Captain McNaught (8165154)

Canon Pennefather, played by a relaxed and confident Richard Pink, had many pages of complicated lines that he delivered faultlessly and in complete character throughout. His approach to his ecclesiastical work appears to revolve around extracting large charitable donations from the upper classes and dishing out morally correct advice to those that will listen, especially his ward and god-daughter, Kay, who he carelessly allows to be murdered, and her best friend, Jacqui, who, he eventually deduces, has been working as Simon’s accomplice.

Simon is, of course, his wife’s murderer and Jacqui the killer of Kay’s French maid, Louise, played by Corrina Graham-Hodson, who has witnessed much and threatened blackmail. She is paid off handsomely and dies beautifully, but not before treating us to some fairly convincing French dialogue with Pennefather, some of which I missed, including the point of it. Murder mysteries are hard enough to follow without having chunks of dialogue in a foreign language!

The ambience of the production was improved enormously by the steamer’s steward, Rachel Leung, the persistent beadsellers, caught to a tee by Greg Hill and Kerry Wheeler, and the stage manager and crew dressed in character and portering suitcases when not rearranging the superb set. Well done, people, it was a Nile steamer and I was on it!

Lighting was used to good effect to signal evening and sunset, and the additional ambience provided by the sound effects had me back in Egypt among the papyrus, postcards and pongy camels.

The action was beautifully stitched together by director Granville Rush, admirably weaving the nuances of each of the major characters into the plot. Although slow to start – probably unavoidable if justice is to be done to proper character building – it soon picked up pace and demanded attention throughout.

Congratulations to Water Lane Theatre Company on a very enjoyable and evocative first night that left me wondering after the final gunshot: Was it Jacqui with the pistol in the blackout that killed the canon or did she shoot herself? I haven’t got a Cluedo.

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