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Black Coffee, Opera House, Manchester. November 2014

FOR WEBSITE PIC  Black CoffeeIf you like your drama like your coffee – elegantly dark, refreshing, and invigorating – then Agatha Christie’s whodunit mystery Black Coffee will hit the spot for you.

Anyone who has ever reached for the television remote to switch off yet another blood-soaked crime and forensics caper will relish the chance to experience a subtle classic, the chance to sit back and enjoy as your brain cells are gently engaged by watching the incomparable Hercule Poirot at work, unfailingly polite and intelligent as he deconstructs the lives, actions and motives of his suspects.

This is a meticulous production which has the seal of approval from the custodians of the Queen of Crime’s legacy. Agatha Christie Ltd licenses the Agatha Christie Theatre Company to put on a major national touring production of a different work by the author each year.

Black Coffee is their 11th production and features Agatha Christie’s very first play which was written in 1929 and first performed in 1930.

The action takes place in a single high-ceilinged room, decorated in art deco style, and the comings and goings through the three doors, and into the garden, provide a visual punctuation to the play.

It’s a play where action and the unfolding of plot is more important than characterisation. The characters are stereotypes – as befits the genre – and we learn just enough about their back stories to establish them as red-herring suspects.

The driving force of what happens in Black Coffee is the wit and elegant ingenuity of the Belgian detective. Jason Durr is a tall Poirot who engages in much Chaplinesque eyebrow play and sustains the attention of the audience and the momentum of the play with his well-judged expositions of the evidence. Robin McCallum plays his affable sidekick, Captain Hastings, with an understated charm.

Despite the dark centre – it is a murder mystery after all, with a body at centre stage – this is a good-humoured play which succeeds in its aim to stimulate rather than to shock.

My advice to anyone who goes to see this play is don’t blink or look through your programme in the first few minutes or you will miss vital information. Take it all in and see if you can spot the clues before Hercule Poirot unmasks the villain.

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