Theatre review: Agatha Christie’s Black Coffee @ Opera House, Manchester

Agatha Christie’s Black Coffee, showcased in front of a packed-out Manchester Opera House audience, was quaint, classy and entertaining – a respectable showing of vintage murder mystery.

Star man Jason Durr’s take on Hercule Poirot, Christie’s best-known creation, was on point throughout, from the curled moustache and growling French accent to his amiable sarcasm and mannerisms.

Without giving too much away, the plot flowed well with some small twists and turns, but its dialogue-driven narrative – while entertaining – may not reach out to some.

As if concealing a portal into the world of 1930’s aristocracy, the curtains to the stage were drawn to reveal the grandiose library of Sir Claud Amory – him being the murder victim in this somewhat less popular Poirot ‘whodunit’.

The set was well-rounded and convincing, as were the characters, together delivering a striking representation of the post-World War One setting and aiding well the air of mystery.

We were not immediately presented with Mr Poirot, but instead the spectacularly proper Miss Caroline Amory (sister of Sir Claud), who tried to console an upset Lucia Amory, the wife of Sir Claud’s son.

Aside from the fact we were expecting drama, it became immediately clear from the established tone that strange goings on were imminent – and it’s not ten minutes before mystery takes hold.

We learn that physicist Sir Claud has devised a complex, and very valuable, formula for a new explosive – something which he discovers to have been stolen.

Clumsily, Sir Claud has made only one copy of his precious formula, scrawled across two small bits of paper.

Poirot and his trusty sidekick Captain Arthur Hastings (a great double act) are called immediately to investigate the theft. But in the moments before they arrive, Sir Claud is murdered with a poison slipped subtly into a cup of black coffee.

Originally summoned to out the thief of the missing formula, our French detective now has a murder investigation on his hands.

From here on we are taken on a journey that reveals several possible culprits, each quizzed by the enigmatic and eccentric Poirot.

Like a good murder mystery, it is never blindingly obvious who our murderer is, nor is the plot so curious that we’re unable to make assumptions.

All builds up to a finale that is rather dramatic in comparison to that which has come before it – a gripping end to a play which at times threatened to bore its audience, but never quite did.

And of course the cast that kept us captivated. The Brit characters were very British, running throughout was their patronising and humorous fascination with ‘foreigners’ – all ignoring the origins of their saviour Mr Poirot.

While the accents of most were on point, our Italian characters Dr Carelli and Mrs Lucia Amory, played by Gary Mavers and Georgina Leonidas, could have perhaps polished up on their respective continental twangs, but this took nothing away from their otherwise satisfactory performances.

Along with Jason Durr for a striking performance, credit is due to Felicity Houlbrooke as the young and energetic Barbara Amory, and Oliver Mellor as Edward Raynor. But all members of the cast were convincing in their roles.

We were never left gobsmacked by this classic plot of murder mystery, but such an effect would not have married well with the play’s whimsical subtlety.

It was an overall charming and light-hearted production, made so by an apt combination of talented actors and an endearing plot – well worth the watch.

Image courtesy of Darren Bell, with thanks

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