Agatha Christie is the world's best selling novelist. Only The Bible and the works of William Shakespeare are more widely read. She is the undisputed queen of crime, having written 66 detective novels, 14 short story collections, 30 plays, poetry anthologies and 2 autobiographies. Collectively her work has sold over 1 billion copies in the English language, and a further 1 billion in translation. Those statistics are wildly impressive, but she holds claim to another that beats them all; Currently in London’s West End, Agatha Christie has two plays running. One, Witness for the Prosecution is now in its third year, but the other is a legend. Closing in on 28,000 performances and 67 continuous years is The Mousetrap. It is the world's longest running play.
Of all of her stories, Murder on the Orient Express must surely rate as her most popular. Since its publication in 1934, it has been adapted many times for radio, television and film. It has even become a computer game, has never been out of print as a novel and is now finally a stage play. The mystery has been solved by a dizzying parade of actors. Charles Laughton, Albert Finney, Alfred Molina and David Suchet have all boarded the Orient Express and worn the famous moustache of the world's greatest detective and Christie’s most beloved creation, Hercule Poirot - who is from Belgium!
Poirot's own statistics rival those of his creator. He made his debut in Agatha Christie's very first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles in 1919, and went on to solve crimes in 37 novels, 57 short stories, an original play, and recently 3 continuation novels written by Sophie Hannah. So popular was Monsieur Poirot that when Dame Agatha Christie announced his final novel and demise in 1975, he was given an honour never before endowed upon a fictional character - a front page obituary in The New York Times!
What of the other star of our play, the great Orient Express itself? Well, it is more than a train, it is a legend. Its carriages have crossed a changing Europe for over 130 years. Not only is it the most famous train on Earth, it is a palace on wheels. Between the great Wars was truly the golden age of the Orient Express. The great and the good all travelled in her gilded splendour. Movie stars, politicians and royalty vied for attention and the train was rarely out of the headlines. Agatha Christie herself travelled on the train many times on her trips to the Middle East and her amazing attention for detail is all the way through her novel. One incident in 1929, only weeks before one of Christie's trips, inspired a million paperbacks. 60 miles outside Istanbul, the Orient Express got stuck in a snowdrift and remained stranded for 9 days. There were no murders, but the premise of the glamorous guests all locked in together set Christie’s imagination spinning.
The Orient Express’ claim to history is not confined to crime novels. On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, restaurant car 2419 was used as the location for the surrender of Germany in WW1. In 1940, Hitler used the very same carriage as the site for the surrender of France in WW2. Later when the War was turning against Germany, Hitler had the carriage destroyed, lest it become the site of another German defeat.
The Orient Express continues its journeys today. The train remains a symbol of luxury and aspiration. It has continued to cast its glamorous spell. In fact, in London I see her regularly on platform 1 of Victoria Station waiting to whisk her passengers away on the trip of a lifetime.
I am so excited for the Orient Express to pull into Ogunquit this evening. This wonderful new adaptation by Ken Ludwig, so dazzlingly dressed and designed by William Ivey Long and Beowulf Boritt is sure to cast its spell in your beautiful theatre. All the departments and artists at the Ogunquit Playhouse have worked tirelessly and with such skill and passion to make tonight’s show a memorable one for you. Prepare for mystery and thrills and get your little grey working to pick up those clues. It promises to be quite a ride. All aboard!
Shaun Kerrison, Director