However, Christie appears more interested in the warping effect of evil upon human personalities rather than in the employment of the well-known “little grey cells”. We first meet the ailing, widowed Mrs Boynton (Leilani Loau) in the lobby of the King Solomon Hotel, Jerusalem. Initially she presents as a picture of maternal devotion to her adult children who are in turn devoted to their mother. However, almost immediately it becomes apparent that her children live entirely within the shadow of their suitably black-garbed tyrannical mother.
With sadistic enjoyment Mrs Boynton blocks the wishes and desires of her children, at times enticing them to dream before crushing their hopes. As her daughter-in-law Nadine (Grace O’Connell) observes, Mrs Boynton finds pleasure in her game of cat and mouse. She goes so far as to plan the confinement of her youngest child, Ginevra (Rebecca Sutherland), in a psychiatric institution, although the girl’s paranoia has its origin in her mother’s mistreatment. Her aim, it seems, is to confine her family mentally as well as physically and is linked with her former profession of prison wardress.
Such a likely candidate for murder and a likely number of possible suspects gather together in the ironically romantic “rose pink city of Petra”. The most obvious suspect is her son Lennox (Brendan Raymond). He has been overheard muttering that “she must be killed” as he realises his marriage to the “normal” Nadine is threatened by his mother’s scheme to push his wife into the arms of a former suitor, Jefferson Cope (Barry James Acosta).
The forthright Dr Sarah King (Anna Hitchings), a “modern woman”, who has fallen in love with the other Boynton son, the demoralised Raymond, may have both the means and the nerve to dispatch Mrs Boynton, while the distraught Ginevra may well take a knife to her mother. Perhaps even the concerned German psychiatrist, Dr Gruber (Vincent O’Neill), might feel the family needs to be liberated from Mrs Boyton’s malign influence.
But the outcome is more sinister than the identification of Mrs Boynton’s killer by the imposing British officer, Colonel Carbery (David Stewart-Hunter). Has the warped Mrs Boynton found the perfect way to keep control of her unhappy family beyond the grave?
The angst of this tortured family is relieved by some amusing byplay between the irascible, autocratic Lady Westholme, the bête noir of hotel staff, and the irrepressible Alderman Higgs (Rod Stewart) who disputes her assumption that her class is born to rule.
Overall Appointment with Death is a competent and smooth production, with attractive sets (Owen Gimblett), atmospheric lighting (Michael Schell) and very appropriate costuming (Susan Carveth).