Black Coffee is Agatha Christie's first play written in 1929, and the only play written by her to feature her now famous detective Hercule Poirot. The story goes that Christie was unhappy with portrayals of Poirot in adaptions of her books and decided to establish once and for all how she thought the character should look and behave.
This play tonight is set in 1929 when the play was originally written and is from the Agatha Christie Theatre Company. This company are exclusively licenced (via Bill Kenwright Ltd) by Agatha Christie Limited to perform the original plays by Agatha Christie and they produce and tour one production a year, and since 2006 this is the company's ninth production.
A brief outline of the story is that wealthy inventor Sir Claud Amory has been having a family meal (with an unexpected guest arriving) and has at the end of it announced that he has discovered that the formula for a new and very powerful explosive has been stolen from his study. He has therefore locked all doors and windows in the room and arranged for Hercule Poirot to come and deduce who the culprit is. Before Poirot and his aide Captain Hastings can arrive, Sir Claud is dead. Sir Claud's death happens in the first of three acts in this play and the plot unfolds with the usual twists and turns that you could expect from a Christie murder story. We are of course helped along the way as the plot develops by Poirot keeping Hastings and us all in the audience informed as he goes about deducing the events of the evening.
I have to admit that although being familiar with Poirot (who has not read or seen at least one film or television adaption of him?) I knew nothing about this story and watching it unfold on stage for the first time was a great evening's theatre entertainment, so in case like me this one is new to you then I am not going to tell you any more about the story.
Hercule Poirot is played here by Robert Powell who puts in a meticulous study of Poirot and portrays him with great care, attention to detail and obvious personal satisfaction. His not too bright aide Captain Hastings is well performed by Robin McCallum who plays foil to many of Poirot's comments without ever turning it into a comedy double act.
Although fine performances were from everyone on stage tonight, Liza Goddard's performance of Miss Caroline Amory (Sir Claud's sister) is outstanding and just that light comic approach needed to portray the "British" attitude to "Foreigners" of the time.
Everything takes place on stage in a one room set that is very carefully detailed to be a period wealthy room of the inter-war years. We have some classic period furnishings with classic Art Deco decorative touches.
Worth noting also is that there are thirteen characters in the play, but only twelve actors. The parts of Sir Claud Amory and Inspector Japp are both played by Eric Carte. The programme cast listings give Sir Claud as being played by "Ric Recate" -an anagram of Eric Carte!
If you like your Agatha Christie plays in period settings performed and produced by a company of actors that obviously have great affection for the original source material, then catch this play while it is in Edinburgh for its very short run. In fact, this is the ONLY Scottish performance on their current tour itinerary, so if you are not in Edinburgh then make the trip to see this one.
Review by Tom King