It’s an exciting time for the Dukes at the moment, with a whole host of exciting shows gracing their two stages in the coming months. Highlights include the debut of Nick Ahad’s play Glory, a production of Shakespeare’s classic Much Ado About Nothing and a bold retelling of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. However, before all of that, it was down to visiting company New Old Friends to entertain with an Agatha Christie inspired comedy-thriller titled Crimes On The Nile.
In what feels like an increasingly rare occurrence, the production was set in The Duke’s 313 seat auditorium, as opposed to their in the round theatre space which was recently utilised for their well-received festive production of Peter Pan. The relatively sparse scenic design that initially greeted patrons felt ideally suited to the intimately, yet suspiciously spacious stage.
Directed by James Farrell, the talented cast bring to life various characters with only one actor playing a single role to act as a form of a narrator. The total number of characters played by the four remaining cast member equates to around 15 or so. This serves as a stark contrast to the 250 parts that are embodied within the play 39 Steps, which recently popularised the act of a handful of actors swiftly change the characters they play almost instantaneously. With the actors each rotating between a handful of roles, it’s imperative that the characterisation that each actor employs represents an entirely different character to one they were playing moments ago. Unfortunately, on occasions, confusion does result which forcefully takes you out of the moment.
Although, the various combination of satire, slapstick and many more styles has the power to thrust you back into the play’s fanciful story fully. While they effectively employed the use of physical comedy, at times other attempts at more straight forward comedy fell fall on their face, and initially successful jokes were overtly used throughout, severely reducing their comical effect.
There’s no doubt that the cast is wildly talented, but it’s arguable that the script didn’t quite make use of their full acting chops. Moments of brilliance, with often involved multi-role mayhem or incredibly inventive prop uses, showcased ample amounts of ambition. If this excitingly innovative approach has been more dutifully employed throughout, this production could have been something special.
The plot itself revolves around a tragedy that occurs on a cruise full of interestingly complex characters. To put it plainly, it’s farcical murder mystery romp that relies more upon an enjoyable journey than an intriguing ending. Crimes On The Nile is the fifth murder mystery that New Old Friends have produced, and their approach is superbly self-assured, but there’s an underlying sense that perhaps they’re afraid of deviating from a successful formula.
The show’s well-rehearsed slip-ups, while entertaining, felt a little too polished and structure of the show is honestly annoying formulaic. It feels like a production that’s primarily aimed at older audiences, with every aspect of the show drenched in an unmistakable sense of nostalgia. While it’s relatively easy to pick holes in the production itself, Crimes on the Nile still offers a decent and enticing entertaining night out. You won’t be rushing to tell your friends about it, but you wouldn’t discourage them from seeing it either.