Black Coffee

Malvern Theatres

***

With the final curtain recently closing on David Suchet's magnificent turn as Poirot in the long-running television series, it was always going to be hard for any actor to slip into the shoes of the well-loved Belgian detective.

Putting his 1930s hat in the ring in Agatha Christie's Black Coffee is a stalwart of television and theatre, Robert Powell.

Joining him in the lavish art deco surroundings of a country manor house for murder and mayhem are the usual list of suspects played with enthusiasm by familiar faces including Liza Goddard, Gary Mavers and Ben Nealon.

Murder mystery fans will enjoy the formulaic set-up, following every clue closely, while Robin McCallum as sidekick Captain Hastings is a refreshingly funny stooge to Poirot's one-liners.

In fact, there is much more humour in this production than most Poirot shows, and the tone is more in line with films starring Peter Ustinov as the great detective.

Powell's performance is enjoyable enough, but he's just not managed to nail the finer details of Poirot, which we have come to expect from Suchet's portrayal.

This Poirot in comparison seems a bit too sprightly - he hasn't got the quirks that make him such a small and dandy figure of fun in the novels, and he even punches a suspect at one stage.

While the accent is also dubious at times, waivering between European regions, Powell is not the worst culprit for this by far. There's an odd job of foreign accents from Gary Mavers and Olivia Mace, who are supposed to be Italian but occasionally lapse into something far different.

Overall, it's a pleasant evening to test the little grey cells and will provide a welcome return of beloved Poirot to those who have been grieving since his television demise.

Alison Brinkworth 

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