by KENNEDY NICHOLSON
All aboard the Orient Express, where the world of Agatha Christie comes to life in a whirlwind of mystery and suspense in UMW Theatre’s first performance of the year, “Murder on the Orient Express.”
As the curtains rose and the stage was set at UMW’s Klein Theatre on Sunday, Sept. 24, we found ourselves transported to the opulent and enigmatic world of the legendary detective Hercule Poirot. The dimly lit train carriage, the clinking of crystal glasses and a sense of anticipation fills the air. It’s a chilly night, and there’s murder afoot.
In addition to their studies, the cast members of “Murder on the Orient Express,” dedicate an exorbitant amount of time rehearsing for the show. They auditioned and received their scripts at the end of last semester, and the technical crew worked on the sets over the summer, according to Jimmy Lau, a senior theatre major.
When asked how much time the show takes of her personal life, Maddie Baylor, a senior English and theatre double major, who plays Helen Hubbard, said, “If I’m not rehearsing for a show, I feel lost on what to do, it became normal.”
In response to the same question, Mason Oberle, a senior theatre and English: Creative writing double major who plays Samuel Ratchett said, “It becomes your life; you find every single little pocket of time to do work and stay afloat. You have to pack it all in.”
During the show, the talented cast and crew take us on a journey through a tangled web of intrigue and deception in their rendition of the show, which was directed by Marc Williams. With the clickety-clack of the wheels and the echoes of distant conversations, the stage was set for a night of theatrical brilliance.
From the moment the first passenger stepped onto the stage, I knew that I, alongside the audience, was in for an unforgettable ride. The actors effortlessly slipped into their roles, bringing life into each iconic character, each harboring secrets and motives of their own.
But, it was Hercule Poirot, played by Seth Drenning, a senior theatre major, who held us all in his grip. We were invited to join him in solving the most perplexing case of his career. The lights dimmed, and the room was transformed.
The show was an immersive experience, bringing the cast into the audience and capturing the attention of the audience through vivid sets and well-elocuted lines. When Poirot spoke from within the audience, the energy shifted, immediately placing everyone in “show mode.” As he made his way to the stage, he brought us with him, as if we, too, were characters in the play.
As if you could see their auras emanating off of them, each character brought life to the stage when it came time to introduce themselves. The scenes carried their own element of suspense and reaction, keeping everyone on their toes when it came to wondering what was coming next.
There were a handful of great moments that caught my eye, and one of them was the character’s introductions. This includes the many different accents, backgrounds and costumes.
In reference to the costuming department, Baylor said, “our team takes in account how we feel and look when putting us into character, looking out for our best interest.”
The detail and skill invested into the set design contributed to the liveliness on the stage, exhibiting the talent that lies behind the scenes. This posed some complications for the actors, as they had to interact with certain elements as part of their acting.
When asked about the hardest part about the set, Niko Salinas, a senior English: Creative writing and theatre double major said, “Being in such a small place and there being no physical walls or doors but having to pretend they’re there.” Salinas plays Monsieur Bouc in the show.
The set on the stage revolved, which complicated the way that the actors could move around the stage, as the train moved as the actors continued through their lines.
“It doesn’t cue off a line, but off of certain part in the play, so it was a starring contrast to discover,” said Baylor.
Drenning also identified this aspect as an additional complexity to the performance. “Stepping on it when it was moving or spinning because we didn’t always know when it was moving. It was hard finding a way to move on it without being thrown around,” he said.
In addition to the props used on stage, these details helped make the play feel more alive and real. The cast brought a lot of emotion and power to their characters, making it hard to believe they were just acting, and the chemistry between the actors spoke to their shared dedication and friendship offstage.
After the show came to an end, I had the opportunity to speak with some of the cast and members of the audience about their experiences, as some members of the cast returned to the stage for questions.
Oberle spoke on the challenging parts of his role as Samuel Ratchett, especially in relation to his character’s death. He said, “Being dead, making sure you act still so that you don’t move or readjust yourself in a way that the audience will see” was the hardest part.
Emma Magner, a senior theatre major who plays Countess Adrenyi, found the hardest aspect of her role in the character’s accents, which were developed during the rehearsal process. She said, “It was crazy to hear everyone’s dialogue and accents, but you have to maintain your dialogue and not someone else’s. I kept getting my Swedish/Russian lines mixed.”
In preparation for the show, the actors were instructed not to watch any other renditions of “Murder on the Orient Express” so as to not taint their personal portrayals of their characters, according to Drenning.
Lastly, the cast gave a heartfelt shoutout to their team for making their experience a welcomed one. Magner said, “We wouldn’t be able to do it without our creative directing team, they’re amazing.”
I had never heard of “Murder on The Orient Express” prior to watching the show, so I didn’t know what to expect. Nevertheless, I am very pleased with my experience. From the start to the end of the play, it was an emotional rollercoaster, topped with internal questions. I absolutely loved the entire play and everyone cast in it. From the wardrobe to the accents, it was all very enjoyable.
“Murder on the Orient Express” will continue to stun the audience with mystery and murder until Oct. 1.