Bringing Murder On The Orient Express to life on Chichester stage

Ken Ludwig, whose Crazy For You will be seen later in our Chichester summer, is the man who took Agatha Christie’s classic novel Murder On The Orient Express and turned it into a stage play.

He is thrilled to see it come to life on the UK stage: “England has always been my artistic home.

“I did this adaptation about five years ago. Out of the blue my agent got a call from the Agatha Christie estate. They hadn't done an Agatha Christie adaptation on stage for 30 years and they said they wanted to do one and they said ‘We want Ken to do it!’ I was familiar with at Christie in the same way as you are familiar with Sherlock Holmes and The Three Musketeers. It is hard to grow up in this world without knowing certain great iconic characters, people like Poirot, and Agatha Christie was very much part of my literary world. I had written one other mystery in my life, about eight years ago, called The Game’s Afoot and then I had this call. I got on the phone with Matthew Pritchard who is Agatha Christie's grandson and who ran the estate at the time and Matthew said there just hadn’t been adaptation in years and that I could choose whichever one I wanted. It didn't take me too long to figure out which. It was not like I was having to go back and reread 20 novels. I knew that this was the best title. Everybody knows this title and I love the Albert Finney movie from years ago. I thought this is definitely the one.

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“The starting point was that I told them what I had chosen, they said great and I just got on with it. They told me that as soon as I had a first draft I should let them see it. I read the book and I read it from different angles. One of the decisions early on was that there are 12 suspects in the book – somebody even references that as being the size of a jury. But I cut it down to eight just to make it more practical on stage.

“Having worked with estates before I know that some estates can interfere and want to micromanage everything. They will have a view of what they want and how it should turn out and how you should do it and they want to see drafts all the way along. But the Agatha Christie estate absolutely did it the right way and said we have hired you because we trust you. When I'd finished the first draft, then Matthew came over. He had gone through it and there were few instances where he said ‘Hercule would not say that’ and that was absolutely fine because he knew the character far better than I did!”

As for the great Poirots that have gone before: “You can't help but be influenced by David Suchet and certainly that Albert Finney movie. I liked the Peter Ustinov Poirot but obviously he chose to take the character in a different direction. I went more down the Albert Finney/ David Suchet route and wanted to make him cerebral and witty. But I have also tried to take him very seriously and to take the crime very seriously because we're talking about the murder of a little girl. We have got a very evil perpetrator and it is very important to remember that.