Review | Murder on The Orient Express at Chichester Festival Theatre: 'Henry Goodman steps cleanly from the Suchet shadow'

The 2022 Chichester Festival Theatre season continues with a new adaptation of what could be considered Agatha Christie’s masterpiece.

By James George
Saturday, 21st May 2022, 11:16 am

Now, I adore, nay worship, La Christie and went along with high hopes. Very high hopes.

First, of course and irritatingly for the director, you’ve got to cast a Poirot who can stand his own against Suchet. In that, Jonathan Church has very, very much succeeded. Henry Goodman steps cleanly from the Suchet shadow and owns it, completely, from the moment he sets foot on the stage. It is a joy of a performance, completely Goodman’s own, and one that, surely, Ms Christie would smile benevolently upon.

The rest of the cast, too, give strong performances. Patrick Robinson as Poirot’s sidekick, Bouc, is nicely – and in a very controlled way – overplayed; Joanna McCallum and Joanna van Kampen offer good takes on the staid and stoic Princess Dragamiroff and the mentally fragile Greta Ohlsson and Laura Rogers’ Countess Andrenyi is beautifully realised.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Henry Goodman as Hercule Poirot & Taz Munyaneza as Mary Debenham in Murder on the Orient Express at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo by Johan Persson

All power, too, to the stage-crew who move the often-bulky scenery balletically around the Festival Theatre stage; their choreography is so well thought-through and so well executed that their first scene-change on press-night got a deserved round of applause.

It looks good and there are strong performances, so why, ultimately, did it fail for me?

There is just too much of an emphasis on the comic, particularly in the first act, for my taste. Now – a bit of comedy thrown in to spice up the action never goes amiss – but this verges on being a laugh-a-minute thing and Christie as comedy just didn’t work for me.

One of the reasons I like her work is the sense of threat that runs through the subtext in her stories. This simply isn’t there and once an audience has permission to laugh, laugh it will. The subsequent more serious stuff later in the play was laughed at simply because the audience had been granted that permission. Does the blame, here, lie with Christie’s adaptor or the director? Probably both.

Joanna Van Kampen as Greta Ohlsson & Joanna McCallum as Princess Dragomiroff in Murder on the Orient Express at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo by Johan Persson

I also felt the flashbacks at the denouement were cack-handedly staged and, indeed, raised more titters from the audience at a time when it should have been edge-of-your-seat stuff.

Me? I share the view the curate had of his breakfast-egg.

Until June 4.

Henry Goodman as Hercule Poirot & Patrick Robinson as Monsieur Bouc in Murder on the Orient Express at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo by Johan Persson