Chichester Festival Theatre: Review - Why Murder on the Orient Express is the perfect Agatha Christie plot to top the summer season

By her own admission, trains had always been one of Agatha Christie's 'favourite things.'

Poirot - pic by Johan Persson
Poirot - pic by Johan Persson

She adored travel and her journey on the luxurious Orient Express earns its own special mention in her autobiography.

So just over 100 years since the creation of her world famous detective Hercule Poirot, how appropriate it is that he pulls into Chichester Festival Theatre in such splendid style.

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Christie, otherwise known as the 'Queen of Crime', was an economical writer. Her books rarely ran to more than 190 pages in paperback and could be devoured by an avid reader in one lengthy sitting.

She focussed on what mattered - the plot, the dialogue, the red herrings - and preferred to leave her readers to imagine the rest with broad brush character portraits.

But her settings were often extravagant - the Caribbean, the Nile, Mesopotamia - and reflected her own travels with her second husband assisting on his archaeological digs.

This new adaptation gives both devotees and newcomers to the charms of Monsieur Poirot exactly what they want.

To start, Henry Goodman is precisely as we might imagine the genius detective - meticulous, Belgium not French, with resplendent moustache, a wealth of conceit, and a proud dependence on his little grey cells.

The set is dazzling. From the train itself, to the carriages and the costumes this truly is a no expense spared piece of escapism from a world in economic squeeze. Designer Robert Jones has excelled as have the production and costume team.

There is humour too. More than the book contains but just right for a light summer season show-stopper. Agatha herself, although intensely private, showed enormous fun and wit in many of her books and plays.

Contrastingly, there is a serious theme too over and above the actual murder mystery - that tender balance between legal and moral justice.

Christie returned time and again - not least in one of her favourite novels Ordeal By Innocence - to the concept of the price paid by those innocent bystanders when a criminal was not brought to justice.

This new production takes a different perspective on this eternal theme - expounding, at a touch too much length, on this conundrum at its conclusion. The book itself comes to a more abrupt ending.

There is some evidence that Christie loved an evening near Chichester. A pre-war photo shows her resplendent at a house party at Goodwood.

Who can doubt she would have adored this adaptation by Ken Ludwig and directed by Chichester favourite Jonathan Church?

This show is to die for.