Poirot in America: Flatlands presents a Christie radio drama

On this Fourth of July, what a treat to be able to watch a live presentation of the Agatha Christie radio drama, “The Case of the Careless Victim,” right here in southern Manitoba. Flatlands Theatre Co. has been doing a series of events at Bethel Heritage Park in Winkler this summer– and woe betide me if I miss Poirot when he’s within a ten-minute drive!!

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Bethel Heritage Park, Winkler.

The set-up was delightful, with the Flatlands cast in period costume for the benefit of the audience– Poirot was even given a cane. Since it is radio, I’ll forgive his extra facial hair, especially since the accent was so nicely done.  😉  The performances were all really excellent. Angela Klassen gave an especially memorable turn as the plucky Miss Abigail Fletcher, in whose apartment a body is discovered. “Watching” radio drama sound effects live is rather fun, and these were interspersed throughout the performance with generous doses of Christopher Gunning’s Poirot theme music. There was even an adorable vintage-tinged commercial break.  🙂

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Now, the world of “Poirot audio” is familiar to me– I’m a frequent listener of Christie’s audiobooks a la Hugh Fraser and David Suchet, and John Moffat is known to me as well– but Christie’s own radio dramas via the American market was a huge, mysterious unknown. I wasn’t sure what to expect, or even if the story was really a Christie original, as I’d never heard of it before. The plot had some typically Poirot-esque elements, but with some glaring departures from Christie’s usual style for her Belgian sleuth. First and most obviously, Poirot himself is in America, which never happens in the books. He even takes an apartment and hires a secretary there! Second, in the radio drama script, there are a few phrases and thoughts expressed that one does not normally associate with Poirot. He says “sacrebleu” twice, a phrase I don’t ever recall Christie putting in Poirot’s mouth (despite a Poirot reference in the Wikipedia article on the term– incomprehensible). He also once mentions finding the circling of airplanes at the location where he is dining as “charming” in that it gives the sensation of flying, although Poirot himself detests air and sea travel, which makes him feel sick. (This also explains why he hadn’t gone tripping across the pond in Christie’s stories– the Channel alone is hard enough for him!)

My ever-helpful husband found some information for me to answer some of these burning questions and puzzlements. It comes down to the fact that the rights to use the character were contracted from Christie to produce these radio dramas in the mid 1940s, which explains the discrepancies from canon and why they are not included with other Christie Poirots. You can go to this link and read all about Hal Huber’s efforts in procuring Poirot for American radio– it’s interesting stuff.

Good job, Flatlands– and thanks for introducing me to Poirot in America!

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Poirot vs. the Canucks

*Spoilers, as always.*

Happy Canada Day! Agatha Christie was rather fond of Canada, speaking warmly of the scenery as she tripped out this way on her many travels. In the Poirot series, two of the more prominent mentions that I can recall of the Great White North are from The Adventure of the Cheap Flat and Elephants Can Remember. Both involve a confusion of the nationalities of American and Canadian.

Miss Elsa Hart, the chief villain, is actually a pseudo-Canuck in the TV adaptation of Cheap Flat. On the run from the Mafia in the States, she assumes a different nationality as well as a different name. The shady manager of the Black Cat nightclub, Bernie Cole, offers some amusing dialog on the prospects of Canada’s future influence…

Poirot: “What I want to know is, is it Elsa Hart, the American?”
Cole: “No.”
Poirot. “Ah. I heard her in New York once, you understand.”
Cole: “Oh yes? She’s Canadian. Like those Dionne quintuplets. It’s gonna be all the rage soon. Canadian this, Canadian that. Bernie Cole can always spot a trend! Known for it!”

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“This is my skeptical face, monsieur.”

(For those interested in a bit of trivia this Canada Day: the Dionne quintuplets, born in 1934 near Callander, Ontario, were famous as the first known surviving quintuplets. I remember driving down from Timmins once with the family, and passing a road sign noting that we were near their hometown. The identical sisters became a sort of gimmicky tourist phenomenon and must have had a pretty bizarre childhood in consequence.)

Although it doesn’t occur in the Christie’s original story, I rather enjoy the use of confused nationality. As an American living in Canada who is frequently confused for being Canadian, it always delights me when people confuse Poirot for a Frenchman, and he corrects them right away. It’s funny– but it’s also exactly how it is!  🙂

The other prominent mention of Canada occurs, of course, in Elephants Can Remember, notable for the most blatantly obvious clues ever inserted into a Poirot script. Anyone watching the episode in North America would think, “No way is she from Boston if she says ‘zed.’ No way would she not know what she was doing on St. Patrick’s Day if she were of the Boston Irish.”

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Oh well. What I really want to know is this: in the denouement, Poirot says that her accent gave her away, which we already knew. He gave the example of her use of “zed,” but he also says that he heard the Canadian aspect “immediately.” I wonder if he could actually tell even sooner. When he first speaks with her, it’s in a stream of rapid French, ending with:

Poirot: “Vous ne l’avez vu à l’avance?”
Mary: “Huh? No, I’ve never been down here before.”

Setting aside the fact that “huh” is more of an Americanism (she should have gone for “eh,” eh?) it is perhaps just a little curious that she can process his question at all, and maybe Poirot files that fact away for later. Of course, if she spent more than half her life in Montreal– with French-speaking relatives of Zelie Rouxelle’s, no less– she was bound to be pretty conversant in the language.

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By the way, this is the second instance in the series where a young girl is hurried away from her home in England and sent to Montreal after it is feared (incorrectly) that one of the parents killed the other! The other instance is in Five Little Pigs, where the daughter of Caroline Crale comes back for the truth about her mother. We know it’s Montreal from the book, and the daughter had been given the name of Lemarchant in Canada. The daughters in both episodes also, incidentally, come back to wreak revenge… and neither quite manages it. Insert Quebec joke here.  🙂

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In Elephants Can Remember, there is, perhaps, one other sense in which Mary’s accent gives her away. She says that she’s just a simple clerk. She pronounces the word “clark,” which is a British pronunciation, used neither in the United States nor in Canada! So, can we say that this “gives away” the fact that she’s a British actress pretending to be from across the pond?

Sorry, couldn’t help myself.  🙂

Happy Canada Day, all!

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