Arts & Entertainment

Aquila Theatre Performs 'Murder on the Nile' at St. Bonaventure

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Cast members Lincoln Hudson, Palmyra Mattner and James Lavender take a bow at the end of "Murder on the Nile." Credits: Bryce Spadafora
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Stage set for "Murder on the Nile." Credits: Bryce Spadafora
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ST. BONAVENTURE, NY -- Aquila Theatre took the audience on a journey into the past when the New York City-based theater company performed Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Nile” in the Regina A. Quick Center  for the Arts Thursday.

The play, based on Christie’s 1937 novel “Death on the Nile,” concerns a group of tourists aboard a paddle steamer traveling through Egypt. When a honeymooning wealthy heiress is murdered,  everyone on board is a suspect. As the steamer chugs along, the tourists, each with their own intriguing personalities and secrets to hide, race to find the culprit.

However, this was not exactly what the audience saw. Aquila Theatre changed the setting from the Nile River to London during World War II. And the play began with two BBC radio employees, played by James Lavender and Palmyra Mattner, arriving at the radio station for a live reading of Christie’s play. It was the middle of The Blitz, and they were the only two actors to make it to work.

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As an on-air recording announces the start of the show, Lavender and Mattner’s characters panicked, deciding to perform without the other actors. Joined by a BBC tea lady, played by Lincoln Hudson, the three actors attempted to perform the entire play live.

Lavender, Mattner and Hudson wore different hats to help the audience keep track of who was who in the play. The actors often took turns playing the same characters and wearing the same hats. At times the actors scrambled around the stage trying to find the right hat before their character’s turn to speak came around.

The three played a total of 13 different characters. The entire concept added a comedic element to Christie’s play and showed off the range of the actors.

While the characters in Christie’s play dealt with the threat of a murderer, the three BBC employees dealt with the threats of being in a city under attack. At times throughout the production, air raid sirens interrupted the action. The sound of bombs dropping echoed in the distance. The actors paused, terrified and unsure of what would happen next.

Aquila Theatre’s production, directed by Peter Meineck, was not all seriousness, though. After one of the times the sirens went off, the actors appeared wearing gas masks, performing part of the play with muffled voices.

Later in the production, the radio started playing the 1986 song “Walk like an Egyptian” by the Bangles. Lavender, Mattner and Hudson sang and danced along with the music. The scene broke up the pace of the play in a way that was enjoyable.

That was not the only time Aquila Theatre used music in the production. The theater company also used Egyptian-influenced songs by sound designer Chase Duhe to show a change in scene. The music helped transport the audience to the Nile River, even if the actors themselves were not there.

Aquila Theatre’s production took Christie’s play and put a refreshing, original twist on it. The theater will take its production to cities throughout the United States until March 19. Performance dates and tickets can be found at http://www.aquilatheatre.com/calendar-of-events.

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