At the Opus Theatre on the second afternoon of Hastings LitFest 2018, Sophie Hannah provided a highly entertaining introduction to her work writing continuation stories for Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot.
There seemed to be a rather uncomfortable interface between the creative challenge of a new story fitting the Poirot / Christie model and the family’s desire to sell ever more Agatha Christie novels to a new generation who prefer to be on their phones rather than reading books. On the more positive side we can look forward to a first Murder Mystery Musical at next year’s Litfest.
The evening’s entertainment took us very clearly away from our phones. The Pantaloons have a strong reputation for working closely with their audiences even if it is (often necessarily) at the expense of the original text. Their version of The Importance of Being Earnest, with just four actors, is hilarious and gloriously entertaining. It draws on the assumption that most of the audience know the play very well long before they arrive, and that we can all join in with a hand-bag!!! Moreover they add in musical numbers which are entirely apt to the approach as a whole, and remarkably well sung and played. In the long run the approach stays faithful to the original and simply brings an old war-horse comfortably into the twenty-first century. Jennifer Healy gives us a sexily overt Fenella Fielding as Gwendolen and a Miss Prysm such as none of us have ever previously encountered – or would want to. Alex Hargreaves as Jack/Earnest is almost the most normal of the cast but has fine moments of eccentricity. Fiona McGarvey brings us a Lady Bracknell which would make Dame Judi blush, while Neil Jennings holds the whole thing together with an Algernon who appears to be normal – if totally untrustworthy. The performance was obviously couched for out-doors but worked well within the spaces of the Opus Theatre. Let us hope The Pantaloons are encouraged to return soon.
The festival spread it wings to the White Rock, the Electric Palace Theatre, the Horse and Groom, the Kino Teatr, with workshops at the Stade Hall, Archers Lodge and The Stables Theatre, with the concluding events in the Royal Victoria Hotel.
Generous thanks to the many volunteers, without whom none of the events would have happened and to the organisers of what we firmly hope will become a fixture in the cultural life of Hastings. By Brian Hick.