Black Coffee by Agatha Christie
Hobart’s Playhouse Theatre is the perfect venue for an Agathie Christie play. The “Grand Old Dame” theatre suits the Christie style. Hobart Repertory Theatre Society’s production of Black Coffee fulfilled expectations. The “who-dunnit” mystery/drama was everything a Christie play should be: large cast, recognisable characters, well-timed entrances and exits, a death, and lots of conspiracy. Characters were predictable, even stereotypical: comfortable familiarity was more prevalent than nail-biting suspense, but the sympathy element of Hercule Poirot murder/mystery dramas held the play together.
The untimely death of the overbearing father, Sir Claude Amory (Jack Rheinberger) set off a chain of perfectly timed activity: characters coming and going at a great rate of knots. Director Ingrid Ganley showed her experience and style: timing is a crucial element of a Christie play. The cast was well rehearsed and on cue. Ian McQueen, as Hercule Poirot, was engaging throughout. His characterisation was impeccable, giving a believable and recognisable Poirot, without a hint of caricature. His speech and physical mannerisms were perfect, in a very acceptable but believable fashion. Rowan Dix hammed-up the Captain Arthur Hastings character mercilessly, introducing timely light comic relief.
The cast was mostly well rounded, with all the usual suspects: impulsive son, depressive wife, flighty ingénue, dithery spinster sister, coldly professional secretary, and oily Italian doctor, played (respectively) by Eli Halliwell, Karen Kluss, Natalie Venatacci, Kathy Spencer and Steven Jones. The delightful period style set, designed by William Dowd, was the perfect backdrop for this stylized version of the familiar Christie plotlines. Costumes and lighting were necessary and appropriate embellishments, completely in keeping with the design.
My one nagging complaint is the diction. One expects well rounded vowels from Christie characters, and although the cast tried, they didn’t always quite make it, although they made up for that minor failing with excellent timing: the benefit of having an excellent director and a talented, mostly experienced, cast. Or perhaps I expect Christie to be even more stylised. It was still an extremely well done production, with a satisfying level of mystery maintained throughout.
Photographer: John King Smith