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Spoof homage to Agatha Christie's classic murder mystery
You would think it was pretty difficult to produce a crime thriller on the live stage with a cast of only four and limited scenery and props, but New Old Friends theatre company manage it with aplomb. Inspired by Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, recently re-released as a Kenneth Branagh movie, and with a nod to various classic crime capers, Crimes on the Christmas Express is a thoroughly entertaining and often hilarious spoof on the murder mystery genre.
All aboard for Crimes on the Christmas Express. Credit Pamela Raith Photography
Crimes on the Christmas Express, which is being performed in the intimate setting of Lichfield Garrick's studio theatre from Friday 8 December 2017 until Saturday 6 January 2018, is very much an alternative festive show for adults, with an age limit of 14 plus. For younger theatre-goers they can enjoy the seasonal pantomime, Aladdin, which is being performed in the main Garrick theatre next door. In fact, Crimes.... is as far removed from the traditional Christmas panto as you can get, with the award-winning New Old Friends producing another festive winner following the sell-out success of last year's Crimes Against Christmas.
Clever use of picture frames to signify windows. Pamela Raith Photogaphy
Crimes on the Christmas Express, which is told in flashback by one of the central characters, Phillipe, opens at St Petersburg railway station in Russia with a travelling circus troupe which is looking to perform its show on the famous Christmas Express train. Through a series of impressive, quick costume changes, we are then introduced to a whole host of characters, including a rival duke and lord who are embarking on a race, each carrying one of the most valuable jewels on earth. Throw into the mix an Interpol agent on the trail of an infamous jewel thief and one or two shady characters and you have a recipe for plenty of merriment as the train continues its thrilling journey through the snow-capped mountains of Eastern Europe.
The circus troupe on board the Christmas Express. Pamela Raith Photography
Feargus Woods Dunlop and Heather Westwell, who together run New Old Friends, lead the way with an assortment of diverse characters. And equally impressive are Jonny McLean, whose roles include the lovelorn train porter Phillipe, and Doron Davidson whose characters range from both the wealthy lord and duke to a circus magician. The comedy takes a while to get fully going as the plot is gradually established, but the action and the humour, aided by the use of fake snow and miniatures, are well and truly cranked up in the second half as the train mirrors Murder on the Orient Express by becoming stuck in a snowdrift.
Another success by New Old Friends theatre company. Pamela Raith Photography
The cast make clever use of what looks like picture frames to signify the windows of the train carriage, as well as the fake snow which is liberally thrown about the stage. Particularly impressive are a simulated chase on the roof of the train involving Heather as the Interpol agent, and a high-speed ski chase. It all makes for a great deal of fun. And, amidst all the various scenes, the hard-working porters, played by Feargus and Jonny, mainly get the job of moving the covered boxes that serve as train seats - having first greeted members of the audience on their arrival into the theatre.
Porter Phillipe is desperate to woo colleague Stephanie. Pamela Raith Photography
Crimes on the Christmas Express can be seen in the studio theatre at Lichfield Garrick until Saturday 6 January 2018. Tickets priced £20 each are available by visiting www.lichfieldgarrick.com or by calling the Box Office on 01543 412121. For further information about New Old Friends, please visit www.newoldfriends.co.uk, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or telephone 07905 628756.
The show involves a high speed ski chase. Pamela Raith Photography