Crimes on the Christmas Express
by New Old Friends
Lichfield Garrick Studio Theatre – Friday 8 December 2017
Having seen the panto Aladdin at the Garrick on Tuesday night I went along to the Studio Theatre on Friday to see an alternate Christmas performance – Crimes on the Christmas Express by the company ‘New Old Friends’.
The New Old Friends appeared at the Garrick in December 2016 with ‘Crimes against Christmas’, set on a remote island where the body count mounts (with overtones of a typical Agatha Christie plot) and the Christmas Express also references one of Christie’s plots with a madcap, screwball comedy caper with more than a nod and a wink to Agatha’s Murder on the Orient Express.
The play is all set on a train travelling across Europe with a Christmas selection box of odd-ball characters – a troupe of Russian circus performers; French train guards; Interpol agents; a Scottish con artist and two barmy rival, stupidly rich British noblemen. Most of them are trying to steal, or protect, two diamonds, both the size of the Star of India – apart from Phillipe and Stephanie who are far too busy trying to steal each other’s hearts! As the train makes its way across Europe there is crime, passion, broken windows, broken hearts, snowstorms, cops chasing robbers, Philippe chasing Stephanie – and…murder…! But who is the mysterious master criminal Pseudonym? And who is the killer? And who has got the diamonds? And does true love prevail?
The cast of New Old Friends (Heather Westwall, Feargus Woods Dunlop, James McLean and Doron Davidson) play a bewildering number of characters, with a bewildering number of accents (from the steppes of Russia to the steppes of Doncaster…) and a bewildering number of costume changes. The stage set is basically four pieces of equipment which the cast twirl and whirl round the stage to ingeniously create train carriages, bar, sleeping car and snow-covered mountain range, and they use props such as poles, picture frames, suitcases and (lots of!) false snow to create a carefully crafted illusion of a train travelling through frozen Europe – all very clever! There is a fantastic scene, this time with a nod to a typical James Bond movie, when the Interpol agent Toverstaz chases the illusive baddie Pseudonym across the tops of the train carriage cars, set to the piano back-drop of a 1920’s silent movie – and all within the confines of the Garrick Studio stage!
The script (by cast member Feargus) is icicle sharp, with lots of one liners (including one about their ‘noisy neighbours’ next door at the panto!) and laugh out loud moments. There are visual gags and slapstick galore and some magic tricks that will make you gasp!
The direction, by out-going Artistic Director Tim Ford is spot-on, the music (by Dave Culling, also responsible for the music at the Aladdin panto) is fun and fast paced and the magical intimacy of the studio theatre allows you to interact with the actors onstage – although perhaps not as closely as one audience member on the night did, who had taken the spirit of Christmas an egg nog or two too far…
Crimes on the Christmas Express is a festive whodunit, a love story, a comic caper, a nod to Agatha Christie, Ian Fleming and Paul Zenon – it’s the perfect alternative to the superb panto in the main theatre and is the prickly holly to the panto’s silken ivy!
As I stepped out of the theatre after the performance the sharp, frozen, crystal-clear carpet of the December evening snow lay all around the Garrick – and that summed up the essence of Crimes on the Christmas Express to me. It may not be as comfy and reassuring as the Aladdin panto – but it has a Christmas message of sparkling wit, mischievous fun and crazy crackers about it – so if you love the idea of an alternative Christmas message this year – I’d book a seat on the Christmas Express!
Crimes on the Christmas Express is on at the Garrick Studio Theatre until Saturday 6 January 2018 and you can book tickets online at:
or by ringing 01543 412121 or by visiting the Box Office during usual opening times at Castle Dyke, Wade Street, Lichfield.