Friday, June 14, 2024

CULTURE | 07-06-2024 17:03

Players suburban but not the railway line

Murder on the Orient Express; by Agatha Christie (adapted by Ken Ludwig); Directed by Laura Riera; June 14, 15, 16; Friday & Saturday 9pm – Sunday 7pm; The Playhouse – Moreno 80, San Isidro.

When told that the 11 players performed superbly, you would normally imagine that we are talking about a football team but in this case it was the Suburban Players production of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express running at the British Arts Centre last weekend (but also later performances at the troupe’s original theatre in San Isidro).

The Suburban Players were taking on big league competition on a par with Real Madrid in the form of film versions by the likes of Sidney Lumet and Kenneth Branagh with their all-star casts and massive budgets (US$1.5 million for the former but half a century ago and US$55 million for the latter in 2017) yet they proved up to the challenge.

In quality at any rate but stage limits enforced some quantitative concessions in the form of downsizing the cast. At the risk of being a spoiler (although Murder on the Orient Express being the one whodunit where everybody did it is widely known), the murder is carried out on the train by a self-appointed jury of 12 on a Mafia infanticide drawn from the Charles Lindbergh kidnap case but this production reduces the dozen to an octet – the butler, chauffeur, the maid’s police boy-friend and Hungarian brother-in-law (the latter on the train but not one of the 12) from the baby victim’s household are weeded out while the cook and nursemaid are rolled into one.

But the remaining eight held their own. While critics are expected to criticise by definition, this reviewer found little to fault. Martín Ignacio Zonca acts well but as the tallest person on the stage was miscast in the chief role of Hercule Poirot (who enters the novel in its second paragraph as “a small man … with an upward-curled moustache”) – it is the considered opinion of this reviewer that Joe Elverdin, with just as good a Gallic accent as Zonca as the rail company manager Constantine Bouc, should have been Poirot with the right physique du role. Sofía Garrido as Mary Debenham struggled occasionally with her English diction but her acting performance was fully up to standard.

The best of a good bunch in this reviewer’s opinion was Claudia Navarro as the gushing lush Mrs Hubbard, as good in her own way as Lauren Bacall in Lumet’s film, while George Centeno was a brashly egregious villain/victim. Sofía Gómez Rocca injected glamour as the Countess Andrenyi (travelling without the Count, unlike in the book, and thus freed to be almost a Captain Hastings partner of Poirot at times). Cris Cormack as an imperious Russian Princess Natalya Dragomiroff, Roger Garret as a rigidly martial Colonel James Arbuthnot and Valentín Fernández as the diffident secretary Hector MacQueen are all true to their characters, as are Maggie Fitzgerald as the devout Swedish travelling companion of the Princess and Eduardo Palma (doubling as the train conductor Pierre Michel and the head waiter at the Tokatlian Hotel in Istanbul).

This cast is skilfully directed by Laura Riera (BAC Artistic Director and a veteran of Suburban Players with over 40 productions under her belt), who deftly adapted a Ken Ludwig script to her troupe’s dimensions. Short scenes (about a dozen each in the two acts) kept the audience on their toes with the crew doing wonders in changing a set which fully conveyed the Orient Express of 1934 with all the period details. As did even more the remarkably varied wardrobe (some smart weekend shopping in San Telmo antiques markets is suspected).

Future performances will be at the original Playhouse (Moreno 80, San Isidro) this weekend and next (June 14, 15 and 16), which also has its advantages since its tiny stage is the perfect size for a railway carriage – a thriller up close and personal for the audience. 

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Michael Soltys

Michael Soltys

Michael Soltys, who first entered the Buenos Aires Herald in 1983, held various editorial posts at the newspaper from 1990 and was the lead writer of the publication’s editorials from 1987 until 2017.


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