Co-creators: David Suchet and Liza McLean
It says much for the power of television that, after David Suchet’s 52 years in the theatre, it’s Poirot who gets his name in the title. Quite right, too: as Suchet points out, the role changed his life, not only by providing a steady well paid job, but by changing perceptions of him as an actor. Apart from anything else he became someone who could put bums on seats – as he comments shrewdly, the audience packing the Theatre Royal would not be there without Poirot.
However, Suchet and his collaborator Liza McLean give full value to the “and more”. Indeed until Suchet launches into a terrific segment on becoming Poirot in the last 20 minutes or so the little Belgian has always been there in the background, seldom in the foreground.
Suchet’s reaction to the adoring ovation on his first entry raises fears that we might spend two hours in Luvviedom, but nothing could be further from the truth. He proves a friendly, down to earth guide to his career, often self-deprecating, with an instant rapport with the audience, a natural and easy relationship that crosses the proscenium.
For the first half Suchet and his old friend, writer/producer Geoffrey Wansell, sit in comfy chairs either side of a small table and Wansell prompts Suchet into reminiscences. Their relationship is informal enough for it to sound like an unplanned conversation, but clearly it is scripted, though not necessarily word for word. By the interval we have had a brief resume of Suchet’s career, with the customary dusting of theatrical disasters. The most amusing anecdotes concern either his mother or those people who believe Poirot is real, Suchet’s talent for instant impressions and acting out scenes bringing the stories to life. As for Suchet the actor the main impression is of his tremendous attention to detail in, for instance, his examination (and, in some cases, appropriation) of props and furniture from Freud’s house or his 92 points about Poirot after reading all the novels/stories.
The second half pitches us straight into the most theatrical episode of the evening: Suchet is picked out by a spotlight facing upstage before wheeling round and into a splendid delivery of the speech from Amadeus where Salieri describes his reaction to hearing Mozart’s music. After some more chat with Wansell the middle section of the second half is probably the least successful part of what is generally an evening of relaxed delight. After schoolmasterly definitions of iambic pentameter, onomatopoeia and the rest he delivers various Shakespearean speeches to make his point. Shylock’s great speech, “Many a time and oft on the Rialto…” comes over powerfully, but his delivery of the others tends to overdo things to make points about Shakespeare’s language.
But the best is yet to come. Suchet’s demonstration of creating Poirot – the moustache, the walk, the voice – is masterly and highly entertaining, a suitable end to a civilised and totally likeable evening. Could it have benefited from a touch more ambition? Quite possibly. The images projected as a background, for instance, are a delight (Suchet’s stage debut aged eight as on oyster!), but there are so few of them.