Theatre Review: Black Coffee - Theatre Royal, Glasgow ✭✭✭

Review by Sharman Prince

Agatha Christie's first foray into playwriting was a reaction to her dislike at previous adaptations by others of her work. Rather than adapt one of her existing novels she instead created a totally new piece for the theatre. Unimpressed by previous portrayals of her creation "Poirot" she elected to place him into her play and show all how it should be done. The result was "Black Coffee" which premiered in 1930 and has been seen on occasion in repertory in the intervening years. 

This new production has been running a little while now and continues its steady march around the UK with Jason Durr of "Heartbeat" fame replacing Robert Powell in the role of "Poirot".

Plot-wise, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings are invited to the house of Sir Claude Amory in relation to the theft of a formula he has created. It is fortunate he did so as he is murdered only moments before the two arrive and Poirot is soon putting his "little grey cells" to use. It's quite the usual Christie fare complete with her typical light-hearted digs at foreigners and servants but her first effort at writing for the stage employ the gifts of structure and plotting that she was famed for to good effect.
Simon Scullion's art deco set is appropriately sleek and contains some fine details such as the geometric rug and artwork while the costumes by Nikki Bird and the lighting by Douglas Kuhrt are appropriate and unobtrusive. The incidental music by Matthew Bugg is essentially pointless but inoffensive whilst his composition for the opening and closing of the acts is reminiscent of the main theme to the "Poirot" television show, complete with saxophone. No coincidence, methinks.

Joe Harmston's direction is assured and generally keeps events moving with only the second act threatening to drag slightly. Act three, however, quickly steps up the pace and brings the events of the play to a satisfying, if somewhat obvious, close.

The cast are strong and one feels that they are having quite a bit of fun with it all with the humour being brought out of the text as much as possible. Of course, the play is of its time and no real effort has been made to fight against that fact and thus some of the acting can come across as heightened and a trifle melodramatic, if not hammy, but I don't really think this is a negative given the nature of this production. There are some rather dodgy accents which drop here and there but, again, this is part of the charm of the play. 

As "Poirot", Jason Durr was something of a surprise; although his accent is too French for a Belgian and marred a little of his diction, and his physicality needs a little work (his walk is too stiff at times) he is humorous and charming when appropriate and clearly plays the part with sincerity and, despite appearing too young for the role, he is a commanding presence whose interpretation comes across as a darker "Poirot" than one expects. His portrayal, rather than emulating David Suchet, echoes the performance of Albert Finney at times but is very much his own and, with a little more work, shows promise to be a great portrayal of Agatha Christie's most famous character.
All in all this is an entertaining, glossy and sturdy production complete with enjoyable performances that serves as a wonderful introduction to the world of Agatha Christie on stage, replete with all the hallmarks that Dame Christie excelled at.

Black Coffee is at the Theatre Royal until Saturday 8th November