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Hercule Poirot’s First Case

26 May

When considering who is the culprit responsible for the crime that is detective fiction, Agatha Christie is a prime suspect.

Not that she originated the fraud; Wilkie Collins and Conan Doyle were guilty long before her.

But she’s probably the most notorious perpetrator of detective fiction.

However, I’m more of the blame-society-rather-than-the-felon school of analysis. Why are these tales (in which the most important event, a murder, is relegated to backstory) so enormously popular?

This humble investigator proposes that the rising rate of detective fiction in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century was the direct consequence of three social developments:

1. Increased violence in rapidly growing urban populations;

2. Increased reportage of this violence by an expanding popular press;

3. And, most crucially, the desire to counter the above disturbing developments with the best tool at hand: logical and scientific reasoning (which had, ironically, ignited the Industrial Revolution and its attendant population explosion in the first place.)   

Detective fiction says the world is crazily chaotic and frighteningly violent – but here’s an extraordinarily rational individual who will restore order.

In comedy, order is often restored by a marriage (or something dreadfully like it). In crime, order is restored by an arrest. So, as it’s been quipped previously, it’s either “Dear Reader, I married him” or “The butler did it.” (Though, in this play, I should point out, he doesn’t.)

I expected this production to be a comedy, which is simply indicative of my inability to draw a logical conclusion from the available (marketing) evidence.

Hercule Poirot’s First Case is detective fiction, though the script’s fast pace, brought to the fore by some deft work by director Tom Massey, makes it an even closer cousin to comedy than such plays usually are. Giggles and guesswork make this an engaging show.

The title is a misnomer. It’s not Poirot’s first case. Played by Peter Gizariotis with charm, Poirot arrives in the story fully formed. It’s Poirot’s first case in that the script by Jon Jory is based on Agatha Christie’s first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. For aficionados of detective fiction, this might be a rare treat.

Veronica Kaye

Hercule Poirot’s First Case by Jon Jory, based on an Agatha Christie novel.

Genesian Theatre until July 2

www.genesiantheatre.com.au

Image by Tom Massey