David Suchet - Poirot and More, a Retrospective review: a night of gentle reminiscence

·3-min read
David Suchet in his one-man show  (Ash Koek)
David Suchet in his one-man show (Ash Koek)

This evening of undemanding reminiscence from David Suchet is baggy in all the wrong places, but it’s being done for all the right reasons. The vigorous, treacle-voiced 75-year-old has leveraged the fame gained from playing Agatha Christie’s Poirot on ITV from 1989 to 2013 to “encourage and invite” audiences back to the theatre at this critical time.

This London date follows a 25-venue regional tour and takes place after a positive Covid test stopped Suchet attending his investiture for a knighthood. So three cheers for him, and if the show is gentle and self-deprecating rather than gossipy and waspish, so be it.

The Poirot fans in the audience are treated to well-polished stories of how he rescued the Belgian sleuth from mockery, winning the endorsement of Christie’s family and writing a 93-line list of character traits that he circulated to the film crew. There are “oohs” when he produces Poirot’s cane and moustache. Lots of viewers think his Poirot is real: one old lady, encountering him in costume on location asked him what he was doing in Hastings. In character, he replied: “I am on ‘oliday.”

It’s refreshing to see a serious actor at ease with a defining, popular character. Poirot not only gave Suchet “regular employment” but allowed him to return regularly to the stage where he’d first made his name in classical roles, and to draw crowds to challenging work by David Mamet, Arthur Miller and Eugene O’Neill. His Lady Bracknell in 2015 was a radical surprise.

Suchet in his most iconic role as Poirot
Suchet in his most iconic role as Poirot

Suchet is serious but unpretentious about his craft, seeing himself as a conduit for the writer’s thoughts, rather than his own or a director’s vanities. Rigorously humble, he tells the story of his rise through pratfalls and accidents. Even high professional triumphs are undercut by deflating mutters from the stalls or an interval phone call from his mum telling him he looks bald.

With his friend, writer Geoffrey Wansell, as a soft feed, Suchet tells us about his surgeon father and stagey mum and grandma, being a public school misfit at drama school in the 60s, and falling in love at first sight with his wife Sheila Ferris at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre in 1972. The personal stuff is charming but scanty, the professional memories rose-tinted and largely uncritical. Suchet even finds kind words to say about loathsome characters he’s played, from Iago to Robert Maxwell.

A second-act discourse on acting methods should be jettisoned, particularly as it’s followed by a lengthy plunge back into Poirot and how he got the character’s look, voice and “mincing gait” (it involves a penny held between clenched buttocks, apparently). But it’s a pleasure to hear him wrap that sonorous voice around speeches from Macbeth and the Tempest. And to spend time with an actor whose talent has always seemed in inverse proportion to his ego. Even if he goes on a bit. And even if you wouldn’t want to borrow a penny from him.

Harold Pinter Theatre, to Jan 22; DavidSuchetOnStage.com

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