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Photo courtesy Tim Nguyen

Poetry on wheels: Murder on the Orient Express at Vertigo Theatre

By Sheroog Kubur, December 1 2022

It’s the murder mystery to end all murder mysteries — Murder on the Orient Express. The classic Agatha Christie story was brought to life at Vertigo Theatre for the opening night of its four-week run. The show brought together the magnificent storytelling that one would expect from a Christie novel with the whimsical magic of live theatre, creating a version of the classic tale that can’t be missed. 

The show opened with a shadow box performance of a critical detail in the story, the murder of three-year-old Daisy Armstrong. The delivery of the lines compensated for the lack of details during the harrowing sequence — Daisy realizing a man was in her room, her mother calling out to see what happened and her bone-chilling screams to close off the sequence. This was a creative addition to the story, which normally opens with Hercule Poirot (Haysem Kadri) meeting each of the characters. 

The staging for the show was breathtaking. The theatre made use of the limited space by instead opening with a projection of the different scenes — Poirot having lunch in the Tokatlian Hotel, a flashback to a prior case taking place in a hotel and finally the outside of the coveted Orient Express. Despite the fact that it was only a projection, it felt majestic to watch the space transform into a train platform, with smoke filling each end of the stage with every expulsion of the train. The reveal of the carriage maintained this authenticity with the screen opening to reveal a period-accurate train carriage, complete with velvet and gold chairs and glistening golden oak details illuminated by a soft orange light. 

Photo courtesy Tim Nguyen

In a Christie adaptation, the casting needs to deliver on more than one front, and the Vertigo cast had no difficulties with that. Haysem Kadri’s version of well-known and beloved Hercule Poirot. Poirot requires a level of depth that Kadri captured perfectly — the lighthearted opening eventually transforming into the emotional intensity of the final act. Watching him deliver on stage during the final reveal made the audience sit at the edge of their seats, watching and waiting for his decision. Elinor Holt also stood out in this production with her portrayal of Mrs. Hubbart, a character that requires an incredible amount of ostentatious talent and frightening intensity. She delivered on all fronts but stood out the most during the final moments of the show. 

The beats of a murder mystery are predictable — from meeting all the characters to the classic third-act reveal, but the play added enough intrigue with the smaller details. The costuming was an immediate standout, with Ms. Hubbart’s sparkling and silk dressing gowns to Princess Dragomiroff’s various furs adorning each dress. It transported the audience to 1930s Istanbul and kept them there for the whole show. 

The moment that elicited the most audible gasps was the final scene before the intermission, where the silhouette of each actor ran in slow motion with a flashing red background before a final scream and gunshot. The tension was felt throughout the theatre with the audience holding their breath until the show started again. 

Murder on the Orient Express is a beloved tale that all murder mystery fanatics know. This adaptation was a breath of fresh air to the story. It brought the right amount of suspense and character to the story without being overbearing or cheesy. For audience members who aren’t already familiar with the story, the delivery of each twist and turn was enthralling. The show will run until December 17 at the Playhouse at Vertigo Theatre. Tickets are available through their website.

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