Sir Claude Amory has some papers of value stolen from him and so he gathers all the suspects together and brings in a detective to help him get them back. When Amory then ends up the victim of foul play, the detective finds himself with a much bigger case. Black Coffee is Agatha Christie’s first mystery written for the stage, and her only play to feature her famous detective Hercule Poirot. In the grand tradition of classic detective stories, a crime is committed and it’s up to Poirot – and the audience – to unravel the clues to figure out whodunit.
Black Coffee starts off slow. Very slow. No comment as to whether that’s a diretor’s choice or a byproduct of the material itself, but there you have it. There’s a lot of laying pipe, a lot of setting up who’s who, and just a lot to go through before anything actually happens – and it drags.
This persists through much of the first act, leaving the coffee cold until the arrival of Hercule Poirot, played by Andi Cooper. From the moment he steps on stage, Cooper’s Poirot is a hit. Before saying a word, his stiff posture and unique way of walking say worlds about him. Cooper’s Poirot has a lot of flair in his smug “I’m smarter than you” yet congenial portrayal making for a super-fun performance. Poirot’s sidekick Hastings, played by Paul Washer, is also a fun one to watch with a unique characterization.
Big casts (there’s thirteen in Black Coffee) make it hard to mention everybody, but with few exceptions, they’re all well-suited enough here. Sharron McGuiri’s Caroline Amory in particular got a lot of laughs with her frequent anti-Italian statements.
There were a couple other little things one could pick at — like Richard Amory’s wardrobe feeling a few sizes too big for Robert Krukowski who played him, or that Mike Hefferman’s Inspector Japp felt more hard-boiled dick than Scotland Yard inspector — but on the whole, the cast, Cooper especially, and some great layering in the story that leads to a very complex series of unravelings balances the small things and makes up for that slow first act to keep the show on solid footing.
It really comes down to a love of mystery theatre. Ottawa Little Theatre’s presentation of Black Coffee is a solid mystery that’ll keep you guessing the whodunit not only for the murder but equally guessing the intrigue and secrets of the other characters. Folk were exiting the theatre at intermission talking about who might have done it, and were still debating the clues on their way back in – – and that’s what makes it fun.
P.S – if you missed our preview – OLT is holding a contest where you guess who you think “done it” during intermission. At the end of the show, they bring the entries of everybody who was right up on stage and draw a winner who gets tickets to a future OLT show. Happy sleuthing!
Photos for this article taken for Production Ottawa by Production Ottawa photographer, David Pasho.