Murder on the Nile

Date 23rd November 2019
Society Saxilby Drama Circle
Venue Saxilby Village Hall
Type of Production Play
Director Richard Court


Author: Andrew Key

What a very friendly and welcoming group Saxilby Drama Circle are. This was my first visit for NODA to Saxilby. What a way to start, seeing something by my favourite author. I’m a real Agatha Christie fan. The big difference between this play version of the story, written some five years after the book of ‘Death on the Nile’ is the absence of Hercule Poirot, who of course Agatha was really tiring of altogether and so she replaced him with Cannon Pennefather. At least no one at Saxilby was required to compete with the memory of Peter Ustinov or David Suchet’s iconic performances. I was badgered immediately at the door by the very persistent (and convincing) beadsellers who helped create the atmosphere of arriving at an exotic quayside for the beginning of our cruise down the Nile. This characterisation was successfully carried through to the play itself and even the raffle by the Saxilby beadsellers. Well done ladies, I hear some people did actually try to buy the beads. When the curtain opened we were treated to the first viewing of the set – a wonderful, detailed art deco masterpiece. I so love seeing ‘a proper set’, a rarity it seems at times these days. Congratulations to Lance Ward and his team. It was just right. I loved too the attention to detail with the props, including the varied cocktails served. Lucy Hadjoudj and Camilla Corton must have been kept busy finding all the things needed, all very convincingly of their time. The other thing I noticed immediately too was the lighting effect through the windows of the rippling waters of the Nile. This was very cleverly done and was a reminder through the play that we were all aboard. Al Barnsley and Paul Melling, I loved this effect. The other thing I particularly liked overall was how the actors kept in character throughout. Whilst Murder on the Nile is most certainly a plot driven rather than character driven play, each participant made the very most of what they were given. Julie Holmes and Adrian Pick were especially convincing with their French and German accents that never wavered and remained constant throughout. Both played their characters just right I felt. Miss Ffoliot-ffoulkes (hereafter referred to by me as ‘Miss Ff’), played by Susan Thorpe was very fortunate not to have been thrown overboard by the end of the play. Can you imagine being cooped up with her on a steam cruiser? As she said herself, ‘on a boat like this one can’t get away from people.’ Susan played the part for all she was worth, overbearing and bossy and garnering many laughs along the way from the appreciative audience. Chloe Thurston as her much put upon Great Niece had a lot to put up with, as she did so well, as Smith said, ‘if you’ve got a dogsbody keep it on the run.’ Whilst in film adaptations of the story we are used to the central characters of Kay and Simon and Jacqueline being played by young actors, it worked very well at Saxilby with all three being (only slightly I hasten to add) older. They were all convincing and believable. The very unusual situation was well explained and ably portrayed, vital if the reasons for the murder spree are to be believable.
So well done to Anne MacLachlan, Mark Stoneham and Janet Pick. There were a lot of lines to be remembered and they were. Anne played a confident, wealthy, newly married, glamorous lady while Mark acted his complicated character so well, vital if the story is not to be spoiled. Janet’s performance was similarly believable. How prophetic were to be the Canon’s words to her, ‘there was a moment at the beginning when you could have stopped.’ Janet really did convince us that she was ‘the moon, when the sun came out Simon couldn’t see me.’ The part of socialist Smith (one of the Hammer-Smiths) was played so well by Ian Atkinson. Ian has great stage presence and you couldn’t help but watch him, even when he wasn’t speaking. Ian’s diction was superb. I could clearly hear every word. The political edge to this character seemed fitting somehow in these political times of ours, half way through a General Election campaign. His solution to the Miss Ff situation of ‘a small dose of arsenic’ was though perhaps not quite so politically correct. His acerbic comments at just the right moment provided a welcomed touch of light relief, such as when, as after a sudden death by murder Miss Ff said ‘I might have been murdered’. ‘Yes’, Smith retorts, ‘a mistake has occurred.’ Paul Bridge was a very efficient Steward and I especially liked the little detail of having everyone sign for their drinks, as one would on board. David Makepeace, in a cameo role, nonetheless garnered a warm reception by the audience each time he appeared on stage. Jonathan Mellor as Pennefather had so many lines to deliver at the end of the play, as did Janet as Jacqueline and this was accomplished without a hiccup, so vital for filling in the story for us. Well done to you both. The re-enactment was effectively staged with a good use of lighting. I also particularly enjoyed the scene between Smith and Pennefather at the end of Act 2, Scene 1. The costumes by Pam Burnett and Margaret Hogan with Adriette Melling as seamstress were very appropriate, I especially liked the Steward’s outfit and the red evening dress that Kay wore, helping to create an impression of fabulous wealth. It was the right decision to use a recording of the sounds of gunshots. The sound was just right with timing so important. Well done Rachel Mitchell. The Company, in the programme, paid a warm tribute to much missed Jim Stirling their Soundman who had worked so hard for the society. Fortunately Joan Whittaker as prompt was only called on once during the entire evening, a credit to all the cast for learning their very wordy lines. And so to Producer Anne Bridge and Director Richard Kort. Congratulations on breathing new life into this play, now almost 80 years old. It’s a much loved story by us Agatha Christie fanatics and you did the late great author proud. I was very impressed with the use of the stage, especially the careful positioning of the characters when they were all on set at the same time. The on stage shooting incident through the window was well choreographed and dramatic. As Miss Ff said, ‘this is very distressing, pass me my knitting.’ The final seconds of the play were equally well done and generated the desired shock of the audience. All in all, a really good production of a classic who done it. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Saxilby and look forward to coming again. Keep up the good work. You have a terrific group of people, both on and off stage.