David Suchet - Poirot & More: A Retrospective, Civic Theatre, February 8
British actor David Suchet has spent the last three and a half decades perfecting the rare art of the double life. It is an achievement that every stage, film or television actor must secretly strive for, the accomplishment of a fame so complete that the line between the character you inhabit and the life that you lead vanishes completely.
The universal popularity of this character, the adored Agatha Christie detective Hercule Poirot, was always going to translate into plenty of ticket sales on a Saturday night at the Civic Theatre. What was less certain was the generosity with which Suchet shared his professional insights and often hilarious personal anecdotes.
So charming and personable was Suchet that an extended, formal interview with his host would probably have been enough to entertain this audience. But the actor offered up so much more than brief answers to pedestrian questions. The show may have been primarily billed as an evening with Poirot, but it quickly became clear that Suchet had a better, less predictable plan at hand.
It was when Suchet departed from the ordinary interview format that this show energetically leapt to its feet. After Suchet would stride authoritatively across the stage, as only a classically trained thespian really can, the noticeably flatter notes of the evening arrived whenever host Jane Hutcheon came to rein him in. It was in those moments, perhaps unexpectedly, that the difference between a scripted television host and a spontaneous, creative juggernaut like Suchet came into immediate focus.
With the enthusiasm of a talented child who suddenly discovers that the whole family has his rapt attention, Suchet needed only the briefest of encouragement before exploding into another expansive, imaginative reverie. Hutcheon was meanwhile like the diligent parent, politely calling David back to the dinner table to finish his vegetables.
But the real highlight of the evening was yet to come. Following the interval, the lights slowly came up upon Suchet with his back hunched toward the audience. When he slowly turned around to face us, he did so as Antonio Salieri - the tortured, malevolent composer from Peter Shaffer's 1979 play, Amadeus.
In the brief but undeniably powerful series of monologues that followed, Suchet didn't just perform before us. What he offered instead was an intriguing crash course in performance methodology. It was unexpected, insightful, hilarious and revelatory. Who knew that to perfect the distinctive gait of Poirot involved inserting a coin in the most private of his places? Or that Oberon, Caliban, Shylock and Macbeth - iconic stage characters Suchet successfully played during his years at the Royal Shakespeare Company - could only ever be properly realised through the artistic inhabitation of voice?
Even more generous were the several moments, dotted throughout this interview and performance, in which Suchet offered inspiration to those aspiring to write or perform in the theatrical arts. "Write, write, write" Suchet said, with his fists clenched in a passion. Or else, as he himself had done so many years before, and has come to practise ever since, dare to show courage whenever and wherever you are called to perform. It was another morsel of truth from the actor, and an unexpected treat on a night defined by fascinating surprises.
It was also an invaluable piece of advice from a performer as mercurial and accomplished as David Suchet. Or from a detective as respected as Hercule Poirot.