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Review: theatre

Black Coffee

Black Coffee

King's Theatre, Edinburgh

Neil Cooper

Now that actor David Suchet has completed his stint in the title role of Agatha Christie's Belgian detective Hercule Poirot on TV, if the powers that be ever consider repeating the exercise, they could do worse than put Robert Powell behind the master sleuth's inscrutable moustache. In the Agatha Christie Theatre Company's touring look at the grand mistress of crime's first ever play, Powell plays Poirot with a raised eyebrow and a deadly sense of fun that works a treat.

When top-notch physicist Sir Claud Amory is murdered in a house full of guests where he has also invited Poirot to reveal who stole his secret formula, a labyrinthine world of blackmail and international spy rings is uncovered, even as those gathered pass the incriminating after dinner coffee cups around quicker than a magician. Written and set 12 years after the First World War, the country-house conspiracy the play exposés may come equipped with impeccable manners, but foreigners still aren't trusted, leaving the Italian Dr Carelli and Amory's daughter-in-law Lucia as prime suspects.

Powell's Poirot is a moralist, albeit one with OCD, and, though much of Joe Harmston's production is played in inverted commas, there's always a sense that Poirot is on the side of the good guys. This is the case even as Poirot's comment to his sidekick Hastings that "This is not an ordinary human crime. This is drama," lends things a meta-theatrical lilt. When Olivia Mace's Lucia does what she has to with the formula, it's an act of destruction which, temporarily at least, might just have saved the world.

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