Chichester - great delight in heading back to the Festival Theatre for Poirot

Sara Stewart has got a huge fondness for the 1930s, she says. It’s her favourite era.

Sara Stewart
Sara Stewart

And it’s also the era in which Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express is set.Playing Helen Hubbard, she joins Henry Goodman’s Poirot in a stage adaptation by Ken Ludwig on the main-house stage at Chichester Festival Theatre (May 13-June 4).

“It’s a very exciting prospect for the audience I hope but also for us as well. It really does feel that this is exactly what the doctor ordered. It is a dose of glamour and fun and mystery and the adaptation that Ken has written is very pacey and very pithy and very funny. You don’t necessarily think of it being funny but because he has written a lot of musicals and comedies, you have got that energy. It is not dry and dusty. He has spiced it up a bit and the characters are juicier. The characters are larger than life. And I had a costume fitting yesterday and I am ridiculously excited about the dress that I’m going to be wearing. The 1930s are my favourite period. They were just so glamorous and remind me of all the desperately glamorous movies that I grew up watching on rainy Sunday afternoons on BBC2! And we’ve also got a very clever staging.”

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As for Helen Hubbard: “I can’t tell you very much about her. I don’t want to give the game away but she announces herself very early on. She is on her fourth husband. She is very wealthy and she has got a larger than life rush of colour about her.”

And it is a great mystery that evolves around her: “What has been fun in the rehearsal room has been thinking what do we know at this point and what is getting flagged up and what isn’t being flagged up and does the back story makes sense at this point. But what I do find interesting is that when you are talking to people about it and they say they have seen the film, none of them actually seem to remember who did it. It’s the same with other plays and Agatha Christie shows. Someone was talking to me about The Mousetrap and saying it was X that did it! And it wasn’t! I think people get so wrapped up in the story that in a weird way who actually did it becomes irrelevant.

“But thrillers are fabulous entertainment and this is the European premiere of the stage version of this show. The adaptation was done in America, obviously a different production, but Ken was contacted by the Agatha Christie estate and asked to adapt one of her books into a stage show. There had not been a stage adaptation for 30 years and he chose to do Murder On The Orient Express and that’s what we’re doing now.”

Sara’s previous shows in Chichester include ENRON and Heartbreak House: “It’s definitely a factor when you’re coming back to a place that you know and love. It is always lovely to come back to Chichester especially in the summertime. You’ve got the beaches and the town itself is so pretty and the festival theatre is such a great place.”