Black Coffee, by Agatha Christie
Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich
This Agatha Christie tale is an acquired taste. So is the elegant Hercule Poirot solving the mystery with his little grey cells, his deliciously old-fashioned side kick Hastings and the hapless Inspector Japp.
However, in the confident hands of the Maddermarket Company under Tim Seely's deft direction the familiar came alive.
The intimacy of the theatre draws us into the countryhouse library and the plot – albeit dated – resting on dinner jackets, poison, blackmail, a stolen formula for a new weapon and copious red herrings, was strangely comforting.
The denouement is vintage Christie bringing the strands and twists together in a satisfying way.
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Humour in both script and direction plays to the full. Ranging from the stylish self-deprecation of the characters to the running jokes about foreigners from a 1930s perspective. “Intelligent, you know, some of these foreigners,” contrasts with the hero's cry, “I am everywhere taken for an Englishman.”
John Mangan as Poirot makes the famous mannerisms all his own, while the company sparkles in polished support to make a riveting evening, a modern interpretation of a period piece seven decades old.
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The packed house loved it, and warmed especially to Dawn Brindle and Hugh Roberts, while Natasha Purwin brought an alluring presence to the stage.
t Black Coffee continues at the Maddermarket until August 28.