THOSE of us who remember Jonathan Church’s tenure as artistic director at Salisbury Playhouse from 1996 to 1999, full of invention, excitement and visual splendour, look back on those as the glory days of the venue and the precursor to Helen Marriage’s time as director of the city’s annual arts festival.
Since then Church has led many other theatres, including a successful decade at Chichester Festival Theatre until 2016. He has directed the summer season at Bath Theatre Royal from 2017 and now joins the two bringing the new Chichester production of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express to Bath until 25th June.
It’s a spectacular and mesmerising version of the famous story, with Henry Goodman making the familiar character of Hercule Poirot his own, and that’s quite some feat. Designer Robert James has created a monumental set that was originally made for the open space of the Chichester venue, and has transformed the Bath proscenium into the magnificence of Istanbul and the Wagons Lits carriages, bringing the steaming engine into the action in cinematic splendour.
It’s all played for real, but allows Poirot to examine his conscience as he unravels the complicated story of who DID kill the obnoxious Samuel Rachett.
Goodman manages to banish images of Suchet and Branagh as he inhabits Christie’s famous sleuth, supported by a twelve-strong team whose actions are choreographed to encapsulate the period feel and look of the story. Erte-style gowns, hidden passions, and red herrings abound, as the smoke from the engine, the chill of the snowdrift and the intricacies of the plan seep out over the stage edge into the enthralled audience.
Set in 1934, the threat of another war is palpable.
This production deserves a long life and I, for one, want to see more of Henry Goodman’s detective. See it at Bath if you have the chance,