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Black Coffee at the Rose Theatre, Kingston – theatre review

PUBLISHED: 14:57 17 October 2014 | UPDATED: 15:06 17 October 2014

Hastings and Poirot in Black Coffee (Photo: Darren Bell Photography)

Hastings and Poirot in Black Coffee (Photo: Darren Bell Photography)

Darren Bell Photography

Agatha Christie wrote just one play about her meticulously brilliant Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, despite penning a proliferation of stories about him that spanned a period of almost 60 years.

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That play was Black Coffee, with a cleverly crafted plot involving theft, death and naked ambition - all standard ingredients of a Christie murder mystery. Black Coffee came to the Rose Theatre earlier this month, courtesy of The Agatha Christie Theatre Company and director, Joe Harmston.

Set in 1929, the year Black Coffee was written, the story unfolded in typical Christie style with the arrival of a corpse early on in proceedings, along with a raft of suspects guarding secrets, motives and underlying tensions galore. Suspects included Lucia - the passionate Italian daughter in law with a secret past, played by Georgina Leonidas who managed to maintain a credible Italian accent throughout.

She was joined, amongst others, by her thoroughly decent husband (Ben Nealon), the inscrutable butler (Martin Carroll), an ambitious private secretary (Oliver Mellor), and a mysterious Italian doctor (another decent stab at the Italian accent by Gary Mavers).

Other characters of note included the deceased’s grieving widow (Deborah Grant), who seemed come straight from the set of Downton Abbey, as well as ‘Bright Young Thing’, Barbara (Felicity Houlbrooke), whose flirtation with the nonplussed Captain Hastings (Robin McCallum) was a particular comic highlight.

Of course, the play’s main action revolved around Poirot himself, played with carefully constructed mannerisms, yet another plausible European accent and well-judged dry wit by Jason Durr. Accompanied by the loyal Hastings, Poirot picked his way through the case to reveal the cause of death (poisoning via a First World War medicine box) and the identity of the murderer (sorry, we’re not giving that bit of information away here...). Not to mention a myriad of false testimonies, red herrings and other essential murder mystery plot devices.

Despite its macabre theme, Black Coffee was enormous fun to watch, with a fast pace, played against the backdrop of designer, Simon Scullion’s evocative 1920s set. The audience had plenty of chances to try and figure out ‘whodunnit’ for themselves and, with two separate intervals, plenty of time to discuss their theories with each other.

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Black Coffee runs at the Rose Theatre in Kingston, until Saturday October 18

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Agatha Christie and a real life Shere murder mystery

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