Who knew a game of golf could be so deadly? Of course, there is always the chance a flying ball could strike one in the head. It happened in New Zealand in 2018 when 27-year-old Jaden Goldfinch met his demise at the Frankton Golf Centre.
However, in the hands of the greatest crime novelist of all time – Agatha Christie – a golf course is the perfect place for something more planned. Namely, a murder. Here, it’s really a very cold case. One hundred years old, actually.
In 1923 Christie wrote Murder on the Links, featuring her iconic detective Hercule Poirot. It was only the second outing for Poirot, who had not yet achieved the iconic fictional detective status we know today. In a review of the book in 1923, The New York Times wrote “The plot has peculiar complications and the reader will have to be very astute indeed if he guesses who the criminal is until the last complexity has been unravelled.”
All the more so here, as the multitude of characters are all played by just six actors. Ben Wolfe draws for us a delightful portrait of Poirot, with all his foibles lovingly put on display. A very fine piece of acting. I think David Suchet would approve of how Wolfe handled the detective character.
Lara Toner stars as his sidekick, Capt. Hastings. Even though it is a male role, she was so good we all forgot that and went with the flow. The other 4 actors perform multiple roles: Huck Huckaby, Tonie Knight, Chase Brewer and Sarah Chong Dickey do a superb job at on-stage wardrobe changes. It invigorates the play with a lot of humour, which was never intended in the 1923 book. It verges very close to slapstick at times, but the audience is so concerned with following the intricate plot that it just seems natural. The minimal set includes a trap-door above eye level, a-la the TV show Laugh-In, which by itself got several laughs from the audience. The use of puppets, and trap doors in the furniture to display such things as the will of the deceased, ensured that most elements of the book were here, even though some got turned into gags that everybody enjoyed!
Poirot introduces the play with an invitation to explore “Mystery in the landscape of your mind.” The management of Austin Playhouse creatively put a putting green in the lobby. Quite a lovely landscape of a green golf course, with figures from the play dotted about. At the top of the course (shown in photo) we can see Poirot and Hastings together.
“I just adore crime!” enthuses one of the characters. This is an adorable production, certainly one of the best Austin has seen in 2023. I expect some award nomination for this production. See it for sure!
Murder on the Links runs thru Dec 30 at Austin Playhouse (405 W 22nd St., Austin)
Curtain call for the cast (l to r): Brewer, Knight, Toner, Wolfe, Dickey, Huckaby