Reviewed by David Smith
All credit to Blackwood Players for giving James Barbary and Cherie Furniss their directing debut with Mystery on the Orient Express. They coordinated a good sized cast, multiple costume changes and considerable singing and dancing to present an enthusiastic display. It’s as much variety show as musical.
The script, however, works against them. Mary McMahon’s plot is thin. It’s a mystery about the theft of a Countess’ pearls on a European train trip. The dialogue is functional to a point but relies on stereotypical gags. The characters’ names say it all: Countess Pullitoffski, Heapa von Crapp, Mucho Sexio and so on. Between scenes of the main plot are choreographed songs and forays by the cast among the audience.
Early train songs such as Chattanooga Choo-Choo and Do the Locomotion, soon give way to music suited to the countries visited or aspects of the plot.
Several actors were assured and confident. Mitchell Lowe showed depth and a range of skills as a train inspector and three other characters. He is vocally strong in dialogue and song and is a natural performer who readily engages the audience. As a pair, George Bannard (Sherlock Holmes) and Sarah Kostiw (Dr Watson) got it right. They related well to each other and had crisp timing combined with a clear sense of comedy. Vanessa Schar impressed as the sultry Gater Hari, sustaining both character and accent and moving very well.
Ann Barbary’s costumes suited the themes and style, but the program contained occasional out-dated notes, clearly written for previous productions. The radio microphones worked only intermittently, although the cast coped well. The absence of a set was a curious choice and put considerable pressure on the cast as they sought to create the right atmosphere.
In all, it was a game effort with some positive signs.