OLT’s Black Coffee: a decaffeinated production of Agatha Christie that requires a little brandy

Reviewed by Iris Winston

 poirotfeature-preview-300x167 Photo by Alan Dean: .  As mystery writer Agatha Christie’s first play, Black Coffee deserves recognition as a landmark in theatrical history. Further, it is the only play (and later movie) in which Christie featured the character of Hercule Poirot, although many screen adaptations of her mystery novels star the Belgian detective.

That said, the carefully plotted Black Coffee, first produced in 1930, is heavy-handed, repetitive and slow moving. In the Ottawa Little Theatre production, director Johni Keyworth exacerbates the problem by keeping the pace slow and insisting that some of the characters attempt to adopt English accents. Much of the time, the accents are gratingly unconvincing and the actors are so focused on trying to sound English that they give less than the required emphasis to characterization. Thus, the result is stilted at two levels. For example, having a character pause, move two paces to centre stage, face the audience and announce that the death of the patriarch of the household is murder is even more painful than the over-pronounced vowels of failed English accents.

By contrast, the two “foreigners” in the cast are totally convincing. Louis Lemire as the Italian Dr. Carelli is effectively furtive. Andi Cooper’s stylish Poirot is a vocal and visual delight that carries the show.

Theresa Knowles as the lighthearted bubblehead of the family has fun with the role of Barbara, adopting fluid movements and coquettish head tossing, but like the dialogue, this too becomes somewhat repetitive by Act II. Sharron McGuirl, as the very chatty Caroline, has a clear understanding of her role but lacks her usual ease on stage.

Tina Prud’homme and Robert Krukowski, as the newly married Lucia and Richard Amory, while going through the motions of a young couple in love, are hampered by lack of chemistry. According to Christie’s script, each is willing to sacrifice life for the other. That’s really hard to buy when there is rarely a smile or a believable indication of affection between them.

Robin Riddihough’s set and other technical aspects of the production deliver the appropriate context for the period. But this decaffeinated production requires a little brandy to make it more palatable.

Black Coffee continues at Ottawa Little Theatre to July 28.

Director: Johni Keyworth

Set: Robin Riddihough

Lighting: Jessica Clark Bidgood

Sound: Mike Hefferman

Costumes: Peggy Laverty

Cast:

Tredwell…………………………………Geoffrey Wale

Lucia Amory…………………………….Tina Prud’homme

Caroline Amory………………………….Sharron McGuirl

Richard Amory…………………………..Robert Krukowski

Barbara Amory…………………………..Theresa Knowles

Sir Claud Amory………………………..Tony Adams

Dr. Carelli………………………………..Louis Lemire

Edward Raynor…………………………..Philip Lynch

Hercule Poirot……………………………Andi Cooper

Hastings…………………………………..Paul Washer

Dr. Graham……………………………….Louis Haché

Inspector Japp…………………………….Mike Hefferman

Johnson……………………………………Denis Poulin

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