Regarded as the world’s most published and counted among the best-beloved writers, Agatha (Miller) Christie was born in Torquay, Devon, South West England in 1890. Christie is best known for her work in the mystery genre, having created such iconic characters as Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, however, she also published 14 collections of short stories, and The Mousetrap, a mystery which would go on to become the longest-running play in the world. She was an avid theatre fan and claimed that “one of the highlights of my existence” was when she portrayed Colonel Fairfax in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Yeoman of the Guard.
During World War I, Christie became a nurse in her hometown of Torquay. It was here that she amassed knowledge of medicines and poisons that would provide an unprecedented authenticity to her murder novels. In the years following the war, Agatha lived just outside of London with her husband Archibold Christie who had been a colonel in the Air Ministry. The years following the war were ones of excitement and travel for the Christies. The couple spent 1922-1924 traveling across the British Empire promoting the Empire Exhibition, which was a year-long exhibition that promoted trade and colonialism among the many English colonies. This enabled them to see such exotic locations as Cairo, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii, many of which would provide the settings for some of her most famous novels. This thirst for adventure is echoed in each of her novels which were usually distinguished from other contemporary works by the far off places where they were set.
Adventure and mystery were not just the subjects for her books. They also seemed to follow Agatha throughout her life. The most famous instance of this is her peculiar disappearance. After learning of her husband’s infidelity, Agatha left her home one night in early December 1926 then disappeared for the next eleven days, sparking a massive manhunt. Her car was found damaged and abandoned a few miles away, but there was no trace of Christie. Agatha was finally found, miles away, suffering from serious amnesia (she didn’t even recognize Archie when he came to retrieve her), it turned out that she had boarded a train and checked into a hotel under the name of her husband’s mistress. Investigations were never conclusive about what really happened to the beloved mystery novelist, though there was no shortage of rumors, theories, and speculations. After that, Agatha and Archie lived separately before officially divorcing in 1928. She kept the Christie name since it was already linked to her successful writing, and took primary custody of their daughter.
It is fortunate for Christie’s fans that there was such adventure in her life because it was those experiences that fueled her prolific writing and kept readers up into the wee hours of the morning promising themselves, “just one more chapter.” Some of her most engrossing stories circulated around a Belgian expat who lived in England in the years following the First World War. Christie’s experiences during the war working with Belgian refugees inspired the illustrious and iconic character, Hercule Poirot who became the hero in many of Christie’s best-sellers. Poirot made his character debut in The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) and quickly rose to popularity, encouraging Christie to write 33 novels and 54 short stories about his crime-solving adventures.
The most familiar of these adventures take place on the iconic, Orient Express; a train known for transporting passengers in luxury on the long journey from Istanbul to Calais via Paris. The train was created in 1883 and after being suspended during World War I found its peak popularity during the 1930s. The Orient Express and multiple lines that bared the same name but had different origins and destinations boasted comfortable sleeper cars and fine cuisine. With opulent fabrics, polished wood furniture, and gold-gilded finishes, each ticket on the legendary train cost 35 Euros which, accounting for inflation and currency conversion, is about $3,400 today, without factoring for any meals onboard the train. This ensured exclusivity for wealthy patrons. The train service spanned from Calais, France to Istanbul, meaning it had successfully spanned the entire continent of Europe and could transport passengers across the continent in a week. The original train and railway closed operations in 1977, however, the train was later beautifully restored and put back into service and now runs from London to Paris and beyond, and costs a fortune to travel on.
Of the 33 Poirot novels, few have been adapted as many times as Murder on the Orient Express. This beloved story has been told through two star-studded film adaptations, multiple television and radio series, and even in a computer game. This production of Murder on the Orient Express was adapted by playwright, Ken Ludwig and debuted in 2017 at the McCarter Theatre, who collaborated with our creative team to bring this production to the Ogunquit stage. Ogunquit Playhouse is thrilled to be among the first theatres ever to produce this new show based on the iconic novel.