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Review: POIROT AND MORE, A RETROSPECTIVE, Harold Pinter Theatre

Legendary actor David Suchet looks back over his glittering career

Review: POIROT AND MORE, A RETROSPECTIVE, Harold Pinter Theatre

Review: POIROT AND MORE, A RETROSPECTIVE, Harold Pinter Theatre Another theatrical knight has been making his way around the country's theatres over the past few weeks, in a bid to encourage audiences out of their homes for an evening's entertainment; Sir David Suchet follows in Sir Ian McKellen's footsteps with this show, which now enjoys a run in the West End, celebrating his own acting career as well as the art itself.

The Harold Pinter Theatre was the location of Suchet's West End debut 35 years ago, so it's rather apt that the tour should find itself here, following over 20 other theatres nationwide. The show itself is a curious mix of biography, cute childhood photographs, backstage gossip, and language lessons; this makes for a fascinating, if perhaps a little lengthy, night out.

The first half is a fairly traditional affair, starting with stories of his childhood at boarding school and early stage experiences and leading up to his time at LAMDA and the National Youth Theatre, where he felt like a fish out of water to begin with. Lots of credit is given to a progressive English teacher, an early inspirational figure - as well as the efforts of former child actor Jeremy Spenser, who guided Suchet towards the idea of becoming a character actor.

But it's when talking about his mother and maternal grandmother (Elsie) that you hear true affection in his voice; there's a glimmer in his eye as he re-creates Elsie's soft-shoe shuffle, and there seem to be countless stories of how his mother came to be seen as something of a legend by everyone in the industry who encountered her - not to mention her unique way of alerting him to her presence in an auditorium.

What I hadn't realised was quite how long an association he had with the Royal Shakespeare Company, regularly appearing in Stratford-upon-Avon for 13 years in the early part of his career. It's really interesting to hear how fortune appeared to be on his side during his first season - rather fittingly, given how often it features in the Bard's works - and managed to catapult him from supporting characters and understudy to leading man.

This leads in very well to a section of the second half, which casts Suchet as our tutor. He is captivated by language, and so takes the audience through a "highway code" that works wonders when exploring the works of Shakespeare; through iambic pentameter, onomatopoeia, alliteration and antithesis, a verse's meaning starts to open up to you. It is absolutely fascinating, and helps you to hear things very differently in some famous speeches - I would gladly listen to him talk about this all night.

It may be sacrilegious to admit this, but I haven't actually seen any of David Suchet's Poirot films - I've only properly become interested in Agatha Christie's work over the past couple of years - though now I know the inner workings of his interpretation of the character I shall delight in rectifying that. I'm actually most familiar with his stage work and a few television roles, including an episode of Doctor Who (a show he was so keen to work on that he accepted the role before reading the script); you're at no disadvantage if you find yourself in the same position as me, given how much is shared over the two-and-a-bit hours.

For diehard Poirot fans this evening is an absolute must, as you not only get to see his famous moustache and cane, but also learn how the character was built: from Suchet's own 93-point list of character notes (detailed in the programme), to adapting a Laurence Olivier walk and finding Hercule Poirot's distinctive accent. One can't help but wonder if he was gently poking fun at Kenneth Branagh's recent turn as the famous detective when mentioning how meticulous and unobtrusive his moustache should be - as Poirot must never be the subject of others' amusement.

As a non-actor, it is endlessly enthralling to find out about the different processes that actors adopt in creating their characters - particularly when they go in as deep as David Suchet. He admits that there have been times where he has gone a bit too far, in pursuit of his art, but it's amazing to hear about nonetheless.

Guided through the evening (and his life) by great friend and collaborator Geoffrey Wansell, this is a true celebration of fifty years in the business.

David Suchet - Poirot and More, A Retrospective is at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 22 January

Picture credit: Ash Koek

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