WAS Agatha Christie’s alter ego a creator of steamy novels? Did the legendary Hercule Poirot have a secret life as an elegant woman? Who killed Aurora Lightly? And how can four people play 12 characters?
The answers may, or may not, be revealed in Crimes on the Nile, the latest spoof whodunnit from the ever-inventive and superbly skilled New Old Friends.
The famous Belgian detective Artemis Arinae is taking a well-deserved break, joining a select group for a cruise on the Nile. Her fellow guests are a millionairess with her new husband, her lawyer and her maid, the new husband’s jilted fiancee, the flamboyant son of an American steel magnate, a German doctor (don’t ask – murder mysteries of this period always need a suspicious Teutonic figure), a female novelist of rapaciously sensual appetites and her embarrassed son, a captain with a drink problem and the Welsh mate who thinks that nobody notices him.
What could possibly go wrong?
The play opens with a murder and then reels back – literally – to the start of the voyage. This brilliant piece of physical theatre sets the tone for the evening: hilarious comedy, dreadful puns, mis-hearings, mispronunciations, missed cues and dropped props, murder most horrible and little grey cells slowly unscrambling the whole dotty farrago.
There is something peculiarly British about Agatha Christie’s murder stories, and something equally uniquely British about this kind of spoof. Nobody does them better than New Friends, led by the multi-talented veterans of Bath’s Natural Theatre Company, Heather Westwell and Feargus Woods Dunlop, ably assisted by Fergus Leathem and Kirsty Cox (as Artemis Arinae).
And if you are wondering about the connection between Agatha Christie and raunchy bodice-rippers the answer is Westmacott: Christie wrote romantic novels for many years under this pseudonym, which is also the name of the novelist in Crimes on the Nile.
The play is at the Ustinov studio until 26th January and then on a long tour, including the Tacchi Morris arts centre at Taunton on 1st and 2nd March, the Wyvern Theatre, Swindon, on 4th March and Queen’s Theatre, Barnstaple, on 19th-20th March.