A Safe Enough Passage

Murder On The Nile

Wolverhampton Grand

***

PRODUCER Bill Kenwright is no slouch when it comes to knowing his market.

He knows that audiences in regional theatres across the country want to watch something they know and trust.

While new works by less well-known writers are essential if theatre is to stay relevant and alive, mainstream theatre-goers want safe and familiar plays that they know will tick the boxes.

Susie Amy and Ben Nealon as Kay and Simon Mostyn

Controversial or cutting edge it certainly is not - safe and reliable it most certainly is.

Kenwright acquired the sole rights to tour Agatha Christie plays back in 2006, forming The Agatha Christie Theatre Company.

Each year, a play is premiered at Windsor Theatre Royal and then sent out on tour. Kenwright seems to have also gained the rights to the signature of the great lady  - a marketing stroke of genius indeed as it's presence on posters somehow seems to give her ‘bespoke' seal of approval.

Murder On The Nile follows the usual whodunit route.  The fact the action takes place on a boat is almost irrelevant  - we could just as easily be on a train, a castle or in some grand country estate.

Characters, as is the way with this genre, are introduced quickly  - a motley crew of stereotypes each with a story to tell. The dotty social snob; the young, strutting ‘chap'; the glamorous, society couple; the French Maid (of course); the shy, ‘ nice' girl; the all - knowing, gin loving Parson; a spurned lover, and the convenient Doctor. Throw in a couple of local types to emphasize the fact that we are in Egypt and the cast is complete.

The first act is full of plot and character development  - each passenger outlining details of their past which may or may not cast a shadow over their innocence when the inevitable murders kick off.

At times, like the boat itself, the action seems slow and in need of some pace. Things pick up in Act 2 as victims begin to fall by the wayside . . . or rather quayside. The extended conversations develop a sense of urgency as suspects emerge and tension is stepped up.

Kate O'Mara does tipsy eccentricity well as the unashamedly snobbish Miss ffoliot-ffoulkes.  Dennis Lill as Canon Pennefather brings a measured sense of calm amongst his excitable fellow passengers and Chloe Newsome delivers a nice sense of menace as Jacqueline de Severac.  Assured performances too from Jennifer Bryden as Christina, Mark Wynter as Dr Bessner and Ben Nealon as Simon.

Amidst the programme for any theatre, an Agatha Christie offering in never a bad thing; it's a safe, proven formula that audiences keep coming back to.

‘If it ain't broke, don't fix it'  - and I suspect there is plenty more mileage in it yet.

Murder On The Nile runs at the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton until Saturday May 26th.ac

Tom Roberts 

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