Hooray! Henry Goodman is well cast as the tache-tastic Hercule Poirot in Murder On The Orient Express at Chichester Festival Theatre

Murder On The Orient Express

Chichester Festival Theatre                                    Until June 4, 2hrs 20mins

Rating:

Sightings of Hercule Poirot on stage are rare. Unless you count David Suchet in his recent show about being Poirot, the last actor to play him was Robert Powell in a tour of Agatha Christie’s Black Coffee in 2014.

Powell looked the part but you felt his heart wasn’t quite in it. Now, top actor Henry Goodman (why did no one think of him before?) takes on the Belgian brain box in this frothy adaptation – by American writer Ken Ludwig – of the much filmed bestseller.

He’s terrific.

Top actor Henry Goodman (above) takes on the Belgian brain box in this frothy adaptation - and why did no one think of him before?

Top actor Henry Goodman (above) takes on the Belgian brain box in this frothy adaptation – and why did no one think of him before?

Goodman’s sleuth comes with an Astrakhan-trim coat, hat, cane, no spats. As for his lush moustache, Poirot reveals that the hair apparent is stiffened with heated wax.

Goodman evinces the brains, vanity and scratchiness of the sleuth with a soft Gallic accent – fingerprints are ‘fangerprants’. But he is not like Suchet’s mincing comedy turn on the telly. There’s a sadder soulfulness about him.

I can tell you nothing about the plot except that the train is stalled in a Balkan snowdrift in the mid- 1930s. The murder victim (played with malign gusto by Timothy Watson) is an utter pig.

When he gets kebabbed like Julius Caesar, everyone is under suspicion.

Director Jonathan Church does everything he can to dramatise events (gouts of steam, falling snow, cinematic music by Adrian Sutton) with a cast that includes a princess, a countess and a ballsy American dame (Sara Stewart).

Patrick Robinson is notably excellent as the charming railway boss. But there’s not much sense of train-like confinement here.

The actors roam a bit on Robert Jones’s ingenious, mobile designs, which include dining cars and compartments, the main engine brooding magnificently upstage.

The ending is as implausible as it is unguessable. But then I feel the same about The Mousetrap. However, this is a welcome throwback to the vanished days of the whodunnit and the romance of steam. For Christie fans it’s just the ticket.

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