Skip to content

Murder on the Nile

by on 19 March 2023

An Nile Ation

Murder on the Nile

by Agatha Christie

The Questors at the Judi Dench Playhouse, Ealing until 25th March

Review by Brent Muirhouse

Despite Murder on the Nile being a timeless Agatha Christie‘s whodunit, I learned that it is the first time in 90 years of The Questors Theatre, that any Christie had been on the bill to thrill audiences.  The play is brought to life on stage in a singular room: the observation deck of the paddle steamer Lotus as it cruises down the Nile between Shellal and Wadi Halfa in Egypt.  The set design was impeccable, with sandy and beige tones that reflected the sweeping vistas of Egypt and the riverside (although it was presumably the Grand Union Canal transformed for the occasion) and the mainly cream and bleached linen costumes were perfectly tailored to both theses surroundings and to the era.

The informative programme notes tell us that Christie’s play debuted in Wimbledon in 1945, so almost 80 years and a handful of changes on the District Line later, the Judi Dench Playhouse in Ealing seemed like more than an apt setting, providing a nostalgic ambiance that transported the audience back to the Golden Age of mystery and suspense.

The key difference to the slightly differently named book Death on the Nile from which Christie adapted her work to this play, is the missing detective work of Hercule Poirot.  For anyone expecting a tinge of Kenneth Branagh’s bizarre Brussels bravado from recent glitzy Hollywood motion pictures, you won’t find it here, but that doesn’t take away from a typically shimmeringly vivacious production that kept the audience entertained.

Blessed with an enjoyable ensemble cast, the various passengers all alight on the cruise mostly having some sort of slightly mysterious reasons for being on the boat, but it is the recent marriage of guests Simon Mostyn (River Apparicio) and his famous wife Kay (Alexandra Upton) which takes centre stage.  The arrival of Simon’s ex-flame Jacqueline de Severac (Alexandra Rose Wilson) acts appropriately as the torch to light up what feels initially like a weightless vacation into a gradually more uneasy and difficult voyage for those aboard.  The overtly posh and always rude Miss Helen ffoliot-ffoulkes (lower case but upper class), portrayed by Alison Griffin, is Agatha Christie’s version of Penelope Keith’s Margot in TV classic The Good Life, seizing lines with wind in her sails.

Yet it is Guy Jack’s standout turn as William Smith steals every second of his stage time and can be credited with a balanced performance of gravitas as well as delivering humour with exceptional timing, indeed reviving the play in choppy waters at occasional points where the wider dialogue felt a bit tedious and over-detailed.  In fact, in the first act, a fastidiously scripted recalling of journeying across various regions of Egyptian geography threatened to derail a scene between Simon Mostyn and Canon Ambrose Pennefather (Mark Redrup, who exuded experience and class in his performance), yet this was admirably persevered through and thankfully at that, as in the latter parts of Acts II and III, the play came alive with the eponymous crime becoming the central point of the drama.

Overall, the voyage of Murder on the Nile was a very pleasant one for the audience – though not necessarily for the relatively endangered passenger list trapped on deck.  The cast and the production team steered this paddle steamer of performance to the entertaining harbour of a journey enjoyably navigated to a supremely satisfied and regularly captivated audience.  This was a show that the Playhouse’s namesake Dame Judi surely would have been delighted to have been a part of herself, such was the obviousness of the sense of fun with which the actors took to their task.  The continued feel-good rosiness was something that fortuitously stayed with me leaving the theatre to the streetlights of suburbia, walking out into another cold and still evening, stirred with warm memories of the joyful performance, just as much as by the arid heat of the play’s North African setting.

Brent Muirhouse, March 2023

Photography courtesy of Questors


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Much Ado About Nothing | Mark Aspen
  2. Arcadia | Mark Aspen

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: