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Murder On The Orient Express Production Review
Papermill Playhouse - 4/20/23

In "Murder on the Orient Express," Detective Hercule Poirot is traveling on the luxurious train when a passenger is found stabbed to death in his cabin. With a limited number of suspects and all seeming to have a motive, Poirot must use his impressive deductive skills to solve the case before the killer strikes again. Poirot's investigation leads him to discover that the victim was not whom he claimed to be and that several of the passengers had a motive for wanting him dead. In the end, Poirot reveals that all of the suspects were involved in the murder, each taking turns to stab the victim, who was actually a notorious criminal named Lanfranco Cassetti. The passengers killed Cassetti to avenge the death of a young girl who was kidnapped and murdered by him years earlier. Poirot is left to decide whether or not to turn the passengers over to the authorities, or to let them go free.


At the top of the show, we see a restaurant where we meet a few of the main characters. Though the restaurant set was simple, it was effective. The restaurant becomes the train station in the following scene, the same pillars were used, in the background for the restaurant and as the foreground for the station, to create depth. The outside of the train is revealed: a red, luxurious, vintage passenger train appears upstage. For the remainder of the show, the inside of the train is seen as though the downstage wall is missing for the audience to see the inside of it. Though it is implied there are more cars, for the play only three train carts are a part of the set. The first cart shows the conductor’s cabin and the middle cart shows three different passenger rooms- each containing a bed and a bedside table with doors that connect the rooms and doors to a small hall on the upstage side of the train, the last car being the restaurant car. Though the space was tight, to mimic a real train, the actors were still able to move comfortably as no physical walls were separating the rooms, only thin doors with windows to allow visibility and still divide the space. The train was decorated as a European train in the 1930s and the set and props reflect the correct time period and mood. 

One aspect of the production that stood out was the use of white curtains/screens and projections. The screen would move manually, on cue, to change the shape and size of the stage to focus the audience on a specific location of the train. The three curtains, one on stage right, one on stage left and one from above the stage, moved together in sync despite not being automated and rarely were delayed. In addition to condensing the play all to the train, the curtains were used for projections to show smoke coming from the front chimney of the train as well as snow to represent the snow storm. One impressive use of the curtains was when they closed to hide the transition of turning the train around from the train station to the inside of the train. It is a transition that takes some time, to the curtains were cleverly used to display a video of the train departing the station alongside some music which kept the audience entertained and focused as a crew worked to prep the set behind it. 

The well-rehearsed cues for the set could not be seen in other aspects of the production. There were a few issues with microphones being turned on after an actor had begun speaking. As for the lights, special effect lighting that relied on visual cues from actors seemed to be late or early consistently, especially during the flashback moments in the last scene. It was clear that the set cues were more rehearsed and much better timed than lighting and sound cues. As for the lighting itself, the design was beautiful and worked well with the projections to represent the distinctive different times of day but also worked well with the old timed train. The production used minimal sound effects except for train sounds and a gunshot which added to the overall tone. 

Overall, I was extremely impressed with the set design, lighting design, costuming, and props. The cues needed to be more consistent especially the microphones and the special effect lights because it would leave a much greater impact on the audience if it had better timing. It was the second time they performed the show in front of an audience so I felt a little more understanding of some inconsistencies that I noted throughout the show. I’m sure that with more time the small issues can be ironed out and make a great production. 

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