cast train 

Jonny McClean as Phillippe, Feargus Woods Dunlop as Jack, Heather Westwell as Stephanie and Doron Davidson, as the conductor on the Christmas Express. Picture: Pamela Raith 

Crimes on the Christmas Express

Lichfield Garrick


Two Christmases might be a bit thin on the deep and crisp and even to claim to be a yuletide tradition but this tale of a festive train heist sees a welcome return of New Old Friends.

Crimes on the Christmas Express might not be as manic as last year’s Crimes against Christmas, and it only has one murder instead of one every couple of minutes, but it is still as clever and just as delightfully daft.

The plot, which in truth I just an excuse for having a laugh for a couple of hours, is simple. A circus troupe of twin brothers and their magician sibling led by an American manageress, plan to rob loaded aristocrats Senum and Ventris of their fabled jewels, the largest ruby in the world, Rudolph’s Nose and the largest emerald, Norway spruce.

Norway spruce, or Picea excelsa (Picea abies) being the traditional Christmas tree – 25 years as a gardening correspondent were not wasted . . .

With a cast of 12 this is an exciting, adventure drama, made all the more exciting by New Old Friends only having four actors which, while saving a fortune on wages, does mean some quick costume changes.

Heather Westwell, the entire female population, is brassy American barker Yvette plannig the heist, as well as the shy, demure buffet car waitress Stephanie, being wooed by the equally shy porter Phillippe. Their romantic liaisons are akin to a game of statues. But that is not all, at one point leaping straight from the box like a cardboard Superwoman, she becomes the fearless Interpol agent Toverstaz.

Jonny McClean is the grumpy strongman and rubber limbed Viktor of the famed circus act as well as the poor porter Phillippe, who is always in trouble with the train’s conductor, and is madly in love, although she doesn’t know it, with Stephanie, a love affair of few words and much standing around.

The pedantic, rule-bound conductor is played by Doron Davidson, who missed out/avoided (fill in as applicable) on last year’s offering. He also plays Derek, the magician with the tinsel and sparkle entrance and red and green balls – that’s a trick not a condition, as well as the almost identical doddery Duke Venetris and equally doddery Lord Senum, the richest men in the world. Their only difference being the colour of their smoking caps.

And as every crime adventure needs a villain, enter Carl, played by Feargus Woods Dunlop, a Scottish con man, Carl that is not Feargus, while out to foil him Feargus flexes his muscles at the intellectual end of the characters, the bottom end that is, with Igor, whose brain is a muscle he has trained (no the brain isn’t a muscle Igor, they keep telling you that).

Igor was intellectually challenged and lost. Slightly brighter, brighter being a relative term, is Feargus’s Jack. Jack is one of the train crew who is seconded to Interpol and what must have been a moment of barrel scraping in Brussels. Jack’s greatest strength, indeed his only strength, is boundless enthusiasm, usually heading off on the wrong track. Intellectually he is not one of nature’s gifted and the connection between mouth and brain is suspect, but he does do a good snowstorm.

Feargus, who is married to Heather, incidentally, is the writer and has produced a more subtle, as in not as frantic, Christmas show than last year. Instead of a set consisting largely of doors, manic costume changes, and entrances and exits in a madcap farce, this has four bench seats on castors, which along with a few picture frames, gives you every setting you could need on a train, including the train itself – not forgetting the regular handfuls of blizzard.

Not that that has diminished the humour, which is what this is all about, this is funny stuff with a few lines that deserved better appreciation – and full marks to the cast who coped admirably with a rather vocal member of the audience talking and joining in, right in their faces, on the front row of the intimate studio. A disconcerting distraction making life difficult and the cast came through with flying colours.

Directed by Tim Ford, this is another festive treat from an imaginative company who will be back on 17 March, 2018, incidentally, in the main house, with Crimes under the sun, set on the English Riviera and inspired by Agatha Christie, Noel Coward and all those interwar thrillers.

Until then, it is a journey on a train in the snowy wastes around . . . begins with I . . . Ipswich . . . sorry Moscow with a thrilling ski chase down a lace curtain, sorry mountain, and with everyone, apart from the bloke who died, and all the cast except for Phillippe and Stephanie, living happily ever after. A wonderfully silly, festive alternative to panto - complete with snow by the handful. To 06-01-18

Roger Clarke



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