Students, alumni, and faculty ambled about before taking their seats in Robsham Theater for the Boston College theatre department’s production of Murder on the Nile, directed by associate professor John Houchin. Many leaned back in their chairs, relaxed and enjoying a respite from the brisk New England air. This relief from the chills would not last, and by the end of the play, they would be on the edge of their seats, chilled to the bone by the thrilling murder mystery.
Murder on the Nile is Agatha Christie’s stage adaptation of her 1937 novel Death on the Nile. The stage adaptation preserves the unnerving suspicions and sudden realizations embodied by the “whodunnit” murder mystery genre, and lives up to the high standard set by Christie’s literary reputation.
The play centers on Kay Ridgeway (Natalie Marsan, MCAS ’21), a wealthy British socialite who doesn’t shy away from showing off her status. Despite her seemingly perfect life, she is in the midst of a fierce quarrel with her best friend Jacqueline De Severac (Isabel Litterst, a former columnist and current writer for The Heights and MCAS ’21).
Jacqueline has always resisted envying Kay’s luxurious lifestyle, but this friendship comes to an end when Kay steals the one thing Jacqueline has that she doesn’t, Jacqueline’s boyfriend: Simon Mostyn (William Dooley, MCAS ’22).
The tension on the cruise boils over when Kay is murdered. While many fingers may point to Jacqueline, the story doesn’t add up and paranoia ensues as the passengers try to discover the identity of the culprit. Canon Pennefather (Matthew Dolly, MCAS ’21) leads the investigation, interrogating the passengers and trying to uncover the truth as it becomes more concealed.
The play succeeds in maintaining the audience’s attention by making them investigators themselves. The audience followed Pennefather’s every move, charting his thought process, and trying to assemble the pieces of the puzzle to discover the identity of the murderer. When you had made a particular revelation, or discovered a new connection, it was hard to not want to yell to Pennefather, to tell him you had found another piece of the puzzle.
While initially appearing as simply a live-action version of Clue, careful viewing revealed some of the more complex themes present in Christie’s work. Socioeconomic class conflicts lurk just below the surface of every interaction of the play.
Dr. Bessner (Andrew Oglesby, MCAS ’22) fiercely criticizes Kay’s father when he realizes his identity. He is angered at her father’s blind greed and unwillingness to share even a little of his wealth with the poor and destitute. Socioeconomic conflict gives the play more depth and complexity, making it still relevant today given the income inequality in the United States and around the world.
All actors performed exceptionally well, especially in creating authentic dialogue. Characters seemed to be speaking from a place of genuine intrigue, of wanting to discover the identity of the murderer before it was too late, rather than simply pushing forward the plot points with bland encounters. While the gunshot scenes may have been the most jarring for the audience, some of the characters’ intense condemnations and confessions were emotionally stirring.
Murder on the Nile’s success in capturing the audience’s imagination with only one room on a boat and little action is a testament to Christie’s ability to build suspense through dialogue and the actors’ ability to bring the script to life. Marking a great start to the fall season, there will surely be more excitement to come from Robsham in the future.
Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Senior Staff