Recorded April 2021 by LA Theatre Works
Adapted from Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links by Kate McAll
Starring Alfred Molina as Hercule Poirot and Simon Helberg as Captain Hastings
In Christie’s clever and beautifully crafted tale, Detective Hercule Poirot receives an urgent letter from Paul Renauld summoning him to France. Upon their arrival, Poirot and his companion, Arthur Hastings, find they are too late. Plus, to complicate things further, certain facts just don’t add up.
A fine adaptation of a middling Poirot novel.
Typically I try to avoid putting up multiple posts on the same day but today I decided to make an exception to share a few thoughts about this radio adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links. The reason for my urgency is that the production is streaming for free on the LA Theatre Works website for the next day or so and while there is an option to buy a download of the production for $4.99 (or on CD for $29.99), that may be a stretch for some people’s budgets right now.
The Murder on the Links was the second Hercule Poirot novel and while it is not one of my favorite Christie adventures, I think it is a sensible choice for adaptation. There are a few reasons for that but one is that in addition to its central puzzle, the story offers appealing elements of romance and comedy while the presence of Hastings enables for some voiceover to help convey a sense of the story’s action. The other is that while there are a few clever ideas in the story, there are some elements of the story that can be reduced or eliminated without diminishing the mystery.
The adventure begins with Poirot and Hastings on their way to France at the request of Paul Renauld, a very rich man who writes to them with some urgency. When the pair arrive they learn that they were too late to prevent the danger hinted at in the letter – Mrs Renauld tells them that in the early hours of the morning two masked men had broken into their home and abducted him. At the request of the local police, Poirot agrees to stay and assist in the investigation.
The adaptation struck me as a relatively faithful one and I think it managed to avoid the trap of utilizing narration too often. Instead the focus is on the interactions Poirot and Hastings have with the suspects as they learn the secrets of the Renauld family and their neighbors and begin to piece the case together.
One of the main reasons I was so keen to listen to this production was that it sees Alfred Molina return to the role of Poirot after twenty years, albeit this time listeners can rest assured that this is a traditional, period Poirot piece meaning he is unable to rely on his trusty netbook computer or VHS tape evidence! As I expected, Molina turns in a great performance, portraying the character with an appropriate mixture of warmth and self-assuredness, particularly in his interactions with Captain Hastings. When called on to deliver exposition or explain deductions he does so brilliantly, laying out the reasoning with appropriate clarity and emphasis to make the solution easy to follow. It’s a great performance and it leads me to hope that LA Theatre Works will bring him back to do other installments in the series in the future.
I felt that Simon Helberg embodies Hastings’ vigor and romanticism quite nicely. While there is a little stiffness to his English accent that took me a little getting used to, I felt the excellent chemistry he shared with Molina and his wife Jocelyn Towne who plays his love interest, ‘Cinderella’, helped me easily overlook it. She also is great, superbly capturing the character’s flirtatious playfulness. It is easy to understand why Hastings becomes so enamored of her.
While I was less familiar with other members of the cast, I felt that there were not any weak performances and I had no awareness of the few cases where actors were portraying multiple roles. My only note of disappointment is that while Kevin Daniels does a good job portraying Detective Giraud’s arrogance and dismissive attitude towards Poirot, a few aspects of that rivalry were downplayed, presumably for the sake of time. None of these moments were particularly essential but I did miss them a little.
My only other complaints are inherent to the source material – those who love the original novel are unlikely to feel disappointed! Overall then I found this to be a really fine adaptation that I can only hope leads to others featuring Molina’s Poirot.