POIROT AND MORE, A RETROSPECTIVE is currently on tour in the UK and looks back fondly at actor David Suchet’s career, bringing to life some of his most beloved performances and characters (in particular Belgian detective Hercule Poirot) to an intimate audience. Interviewed on stage by journalist, broadcaster, biographer and co-author of ‘Poirot of Me’ Geoffrey Wansell, the recent event at Edinburgh’s Festival Hall was packed to the rafters and proof that Suchet’s fan base is as enormous as his popular TV-sleuth!

Indeed, if anyone ever doubted the popularity of Sir David Suchet, the size of the audience at the Festival Theatre told a different story… for there were few empty seats! The response to this never less than charming evening of reminiscences was indeed very positive. As mentioned in the introduction, the interviewer was Geoffrey Wansell (to TV audiences known as the first link man for the TV-series 'Murder by the Sea'), an old friend of Suchet’s - invariably sporting a large Fedora and a Garrick Club bow-tie. One got the idea that this is pretty well rehearsed, which in itself is hardly a bad thing. Unlike a number of latter-day interviewers, Wansell made no attempt to hog the limelight. He clearly reveres Suchet, considered by many to be our leading character actor. All the more astonishing then that he failed a number of auditions to get into drama schools, before the head of London’s LAMDA noticed that special spark. Like many in this profession, Suchet is a natural and fluid speaker/ storyteller. In the first half he revealed how it all started, peppered with some hilarious anecdotes such as his first part being that of an oyster in a boarding school production (surely those long and skinny legs in the picture did not belong to him), followed by more amusing anecdotes about his mum and aunt - two of his biggest fans!

Other anecdotes include a tale of his maternal grandmother, Elsie Jezzard, who was a music hall performer and demonstrated one of her acts, the ‘Sand Dance’ to him by emptying a bag of sugar on her kitchen floor and started doing the movements.
Suchet’s timing is tantamount to that of a first-rate stand-up comic. Many tend to think of him just as Agatha Christie's famous detective but he is so much more. He was, of course, a highly seasoned character actor long before Poirot - his elder brother (newscaster John Suchet) told him “not to touch Poirot with a barge pole” and we can all be happy that he decided against his brother's advice. There was really no way an actor of his meticulous virtuosity was going to be typecast.

The second half saw him in a change of dress - all in black with the spotlight on him as he declaimed Salieri's speech about Mozart from Peter Shaffer's 'Amadeus'. His Salieri was markedly different from that of certain predecessors. Admired by many – (a different and more intuitive take, perhaps?) nevertheless he got a bad review from a critic writing for the all-powerful New York Times when he performed Salieri on Broadway. As disheartening as this must have been, it didn't stop him from winning the highly acclaimed Tony award! He even gave us a short master class on how to play Shakespeare - there were pearls of wisdom on offer for any would-be young thesps in the audience. In this intriguing lesson, he referred to Shakespeare's 'Highway Code' stressing the three most important factors: 'Iambic Pentameters', 'Onomatopoeia' and 'Alliteration'. Confused? Don't worry - he went on to put this into practice, reciting Sonnet 130 and Macbeth's famous soliloquy ‘Tomorrow, and tomorrow…’. He insists on serving the writer; proving to us that it is indeed all there in the writing. HE IS creating the writer's creation and not 'HIS' creation that may not appear to make sense but it does.

Of course, he didn’t let the Poirot-ites down (there was even someone in the audience dressed as the man in question) and he concluded the evening with more about the little Belgian detective, plus film clips. Many argue about the definitive Sherlock Holmes - but most agree that David IS the definitive Hercule Poirot! We found out how painstakingly he went about getting the accent right (not French - but Belgian) – not to mention that unusual little gait he has and how everything with Poirot is in the head (“Those little grey cells” as Christie refers to them). A fascinating evening indeed! If there were any stones left unturned it was certainly not apparent.

David Suchet, Poirot And More – A Retrospective is currently on tour:

Photo credit: Ash Koek