REXBURG – A train traveling through Yugoslavia becomes snowbound and while stuck in the drifts, an American businessman on the run for killing a little girl, is himself, murdered. On board is famed detective Hercule Poirot who investigates the murder and attempts to find out whodunit.
Such is the basis for famed writer Agatha Christie’s popular “Murder on the Oriental Express.” Madison High School drama students plan to present a play by the same name with the aid of drama teacher Robert Hibbard this month. The play starts at 7 p.m. each time and runs from Thursday, April 18 through Friday April 20 and again on Monday, April 22, at the high school’s auditorium.
What’s truly unique about the play is that Hibbard is incorporating both live streamed and prerecorded video to be shown during it.
“It’s really a multimedia experience. We’re using camera to stream some of the action live to some screens on either side of the stage. Some of it is prerecorded,” he said. “With multimedia stuff, it’s really a different experience.”
Hibbard opted to live stream some of the action after noting a staging problem in the play when Ratchet’s body is discovered in one of the train’s sleeping cars.
“In the sleeping cars, you’re supposed to have doors on them, and you’re supposed to break in. There’s the dead body. People can’t see it, so I actually stole the idea from Kenneth Branaugh. When they discover Ratchets’ body in the movie, the shot is taken from above,” he said. “It’s live camera. I put up a set of security cameras, and then we just show them on our screen. The audience will be able to see inside because of those cameras. It’s just a cool idea.”
In 2017, moviemaker Kenneth Branaugh produced the movie “Murder on the Orient Express.” Hibbard liked it so much that he thought it would make for a great play. He found that playwright Ken Ludwig had written one.
“It’s a great story. Ludwigs’ adaptation is the only one out there right now,” Hibbard said. “Ken Ludwig is really good at staging things. I’ve done a couple of other plays by him. They were both terrific. Whenever Ken Ludwig does a play, I read it.”
Ludwig wrote the stage version of “Murder on the Orient Express” at the behest of Christie’s estate, reports his bio.
“I’m honored that Agatha Christie Limited asked me to write this adaptation for the stage,” he told Breaking Character magazine.
According to the Home of Agatha Christie webpage, Christie wrote 66 detective novels and 14 short stories. She also wrote “The Mousetrap” considered to be the world’s longest-running play.
“Her books have sold over a billion copies in the English language and a billion in translation,” reported the webpage.
Hibbard held auditions in February where he selected 22 youths for the play. Ten of those roles involve speaking parts. Rehearsals started March 4 and have continued every night since then.
“It’s a very strong cast. A lot of them are seniors and have been in plays their whole high school careers. They understand the nuances of these characters,” Hibbard said.
Madison senior Ethan d’Evegnee plays Perot. Samuel cook plays Monsieur Bouc who runs the train.
“He’s the one who asked Perot to solve the case because he doesn’t trust the Yugoslavian police,” Hibbard said.
David Lawrence plays the murdered American, Bruno Casetti, who changed his name to Samuel Ratchet.
“Everyone knows he killed this little girl and got off scot-free. To live the rest of his life without the murder hanging over his head, he makes up the name Samuel Ratchet,” Hibbard said.
The murder involved the killing of young Daisy Armstrong. Her character was loosely based on the 1934 kidnapping and murder of famed aviator, Charles Lindbergh’s son. In that case, investigators found the boy’s body and later sentenced the child’s killer to death.
Daisy’s American aunt is also on the train but is going by the name of Countess Andrenyi while masquerading as a Hungarian. Malia Barney plays the part of Andrenyi.
Daisy’s grandmother pretends to be Princess Dragomiroff and is played by Hibbard’s daughter, Eliza Hibbard. Daisy’s other grandmother also happens to be on the train and goes by the name of Mrs. Hubbard. Emily Olaveson plays the role of Hibbard.
“Every single one on the train has a connection to Daisy Armstrong,” he said.
To find out what happens, you’ll have to see the play.
Hibbard said that his young actors and actresses have done well to fill their roles.
“They’ve experienced growth and understanding in the emotional situation these people find themselves in. There’s a lot of tears and anger involved. There’s regret,” he said. “The kids, in order to make the characters believable, have to portray all of those emotions.”
On top of that, the youth have mastered various accents.
“That’s always a challenge. There’s French, Hungarian and Russian,” he said.
Hibbard says that the play proves both dramatic and comedic.
“I’m a comedy fan, but I love a real good drama. It’s a character study. You can relate to these people,” he said.
Hibbard has enjoyed directing the play and says that his young cast has been great to work with.
“I’ve enjoyed it. They are really good kids,” he said.
Tickets for the play are $4 for adults and $3 for students.
“We’re inexpensive,” Hibbard said.
For more information, call the school at 208-359-3305. For more information on Agatha Christie, visit https://www.agathachristie.com/