THERE’S nothing like a good Agatha Christie for putting bottoms on seats in Britain’s theatres. Neatly stowed in the picturesque past, her stories intrigue the brain like a good crossword puzzle, while offering an almost complete escape from the complexities of real life.
Agatha Christie’s Black Coffee - King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
It’s safe to say, though, that Agatha Christie’s artistic reputation has also been undergoing a revival in recent years, as productions like Kenny Miller’s And Then There Were None, still running at Dundee Rep, foreground the sly and sometimes savage critique of English upper-middle-class attitudes that underpins her stories. And although this attractive touring version of Christie’s first stage play has slightly less of a radical edge than some previous productions by Joe Harmston’s enterprising Agatha Christie Theatre Company, it extracts a huge amount of fun from Christie’s relentless mocking of xenophobic stereotypes, as a country house full of toffs try to pin the sudden poisoning of their unpleasant host, Sir Claud, on a flashy-looking Italian who has arrived for dinner.
The show’s charismatic star is Robert Powell, who hams it up splendidly as Hercule Poirot, the permanent outsider who loves all things English, except the prejudices that allow crime to go unpunished; his stage partner Liza Goddard is a delight as Sir Claud’s dotty spinster sister, Miss Caroline. And in the end, true love conquers all; for if Christie was a fierce satirist, she was also a passionate romantic, and none the worse for that.