“My only note to myself as a young actor would be – never be scared,” says David Suchet, ahead of his Poirot And More retrospective at York Theatre Royal

The poster artwork for David Suchet’s Poirot And More: doing the regional rounds of “non-elitist theatres”

WHERE will David Suchet be spending Wednesday afternoon and evening?

To save you the detective work, the answer is that the beknighted British character actor, now 75, will be on stage at York Theatre Royal, discussing his 50-year career in Poirot and More, A Retrospective.

At 3pm and 8pm, he will be in conversation with Geoffrey Wansell, co-author of his book Poirot And Me, as they look back over his life and work on stage, television, film and radio.

He promises an acting masterclass too, performing extracts and revealing techniques behind his craft and characters.

To go with his dapper, discerning, dainty-stepping Belgian detective Poirot, the “and more” in Suchet’s career has taken in Shakespearean kings, Mozart’s nemesis, Salieri, neurologist Sigmund Freud and media tycoon, MP, suspected spy and fraudster Robert Maxwell.

Would many septuagenarians willingly contemplate the rigours of travelling to 24 destinations on one tour? Suchet was only too happy to do so, especially now that we are emerging from pandemic lockdown and theatres are seeking to build towards recovery.

“I wanted to bring my show to audiences around the country who haven’t had the chance to enjoy theatre for so long,” he explains. “I’ve always believed in the importance of non-elitist theatre. I don’t believe that London is the centre of the universe, as far as anything is concerned – especially the arts.

“And we actors are rogues and vagabonds. Historically we’ve always toured, going right back to the Elizabethans and before. It should be in our DNA; I think actors should put their money where their mouth is and go out and tour.”

Suchet is conscious that Covid’s shadow may lead to continuing reservations over venturing out to a live event, but he hopes his show will be a good way to ease audience anxieties. “We’re visiting a lot of theatres and regions that have meant something to me, in my career. Everything will be safe, there’s only me on the stage, with one of my very best friends,” he says.

“And I’m going to be talking about my early life; how I grew up in London; my school; my very first roles, right the way through to becoming a professional actor, then joining the Royal Shakespeare Company, getting into television and slowly moving into film.”

Among the characters he will inhabit will be Shakespeare’s Oberon, Caliban, Macbeth and Shylock, as well as the inevitable Hercule Poirot. “I’ll talk about how I developed the role of Poirot – not only textually, from the script, but how I prepared for the role, the movement, the walk I developed, and how I found his voice – which is nothing like mine!”

The global adoration of Suchet’s Poirot still staggers him. “It’s extraordinary. It’s now eight years since I stopped filming, and during Covid, my mail bag has doubled,” he says. “Because people have been locked inside, and have been downloading and buying the box sets, and watching all 73 episodes, and they write to me saying it’s got them through the pandemic.

“I had no idea, in 1987 when I started filming, that this series would have the international impact that it has. I’m genuinely humbled by the fact that people still find it so rewarding, and I’m eternally grateful, I really mean it. I never, ever anticipated it.”

On the contrary: when Suchet was first approached about the role, he had the gravest doubts about accepting, even confessing to them in an interview before the series first aired. “I said, ‘I’m frightened it may be boring’,” he admits. “I got into terrible trouble with ITV for saying that.”

Poirot had been portrayed by Peter Ustinov and Albert Finney already, and Suchet had even played Inspector Japp to Ustinov’s Hercule in Thirteen At Dinner, a 1986 TV film. Returning to Agatha Christie’s books, however, he set his little grey cells to work creating a version all his own, now regarded as definitive.

“I never set out to be better than anyone else, or even different – it just happened,” he says. “I reread the stories and engaged with a little man that I hadn’t seen before, and it was that little man that I decided to become.”

Developing the character was a complex, meticulous business. “I’ve always believed an actor’s job is one of creative servitude,” says Suchet. “In other words, I’m allowed my own voice as a creative artist, but never beyond what I believe the writer intended or hoped for his or her creation.”

For Poirot, this meant Suchet applying scrupulous attention to detail. Between takes, he refused to sit for fear of creasing his immaculate suit, choosing instead to rest by using a “leaning board” – an upright contraption pioneered in early Hollywood for actresses in tight, ornate gowns.

Then there was the distinctive facial hair. Poirot’s whiskers were never Suchet’s own;  such a moustache would have made him too conspicuous in public. “I would never have been able to maintain it. Over a 13 or 14-hour shooting day, it had to be repeatedly taken off and redressed, so it had to be false.

“It did vary a little bit – I think Christie herself had about eight versions of the moustache in her books – but as near as dammit, we tried to match the one that she describes in Murder On The Orient Express.

“I had to have my dresser and my make-up artist with me constantly, and my dresser would stop a take halfway through – we all gave him permission because I was so particular – and if, say, the bow tie moved, he would come in and straighten it, and we’d have to start the scene again.”

This was not always easy for Suchet’s colleagues. “It would drive the film crew and directors crazy,” he says.

“You may do things that people won’t like, but you never fail. You never fail. So always dare,” advises David Suchet after more than 50 years on stage and screen

He has firm views on the performer-director relationship: “If a director tells me how to act, then we don’t get on,” says Suchet. “A director should point you in the right direction, not tell you how to drive the car.”

He has never been shy about insisting on the integrity of his characterisation. “There were more than one or two occasions when I had to dig my heels in, and there were many contretemps,” he admits.

“Christie never changed Hercule Poirot throughout over 70 stories. He was given small differences:  he tried a wristwatch at one point, and he tried changing the width of the stripe of his trousers. But as a person, he never changed.

“You’d be amazed over the years how many directors came in and said, ‘I want to do something completely different with Poirot’. And I had to say, ‘look, I’m terribly sorry, but you can’t’. He’s got to stay the same, because of my ethos of serving my writer.

“So I became his defender in a way. I have a lot of sympathy for all the directors that worked with me, I do!  But it’s not me being difficult as an actor. It’s just me protecting the character.”

Suchet’s contract for Poirot was renewed on an annual basis. Each year, he found himself once again unemployed, but those stressful periods turned out to have a glittering silver lining. “It was difficult at the time. I’m a typical Taurean, I like things in their place. Like Poirot, I like order and method, and I’m not very good at uncertainty. I had to put faith in choice and the future, already in a very insecure profession.

“But actually, what a gift! I could fill that time with my theatre work, and other film work in America, and do tours, because I wasn’t contracted. So, my theatre career grew, and thanks to Poirot I was ‘bums on seats’. People wanted to see me.” 

This enabled Suchet to tackle meaty drama by Arthur Miller, Eugene O’Neill and Terence Rattigan:  “not popular commercial stuff, but big, heavy character roles – major leads in the British theatre, at the same time as doing this mega TV series. Wasn’t I lucky? It couldn’t have worked out better,” he says.

Suchet is an actor with a very strong visual sense. Indeed, he is an accomplished amateur photographer, having learnt the craft from his grandfather, renowned Fleet Street snapper James Jarché.

He brings that artistic flair to vividly describing his richly varied life and career – with all its intricacy, good fortune and rewarding choices – as “a spider’s web”. “I am a spider, we all are,” he says. “We spin our life, and we can’t see what we’re spinning. We don’t know what’s going to happen to us tomorrow.

“Every spider spins a different web. It’s a miracle of nature. The spider spins from behind, and it’s only at the end of each thread that he can turn around and see how his web is forming. That’s how I’ve lived my life. I have no idea what’s happening to me, and then when I look back at my web, I can see all the different patterns. And my goodness, how magnificent my web – my life – has been.”

Among the many highlights, he has played Iago to Ben Kingsley’s Othello at the RSC; Miller’s Joe Keller in All My Sons, where Zoe Wanamaker portrayed Joe’s wife, and George in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, when he starred alongside Diana Rigg.

By contrast, he also cherishes Mole, in Toad Of Toad Hall, and his 2015 take on Oscar Wilde’s theatrical gorgon, Lady Bracknell, in The Importance of Being Earnest. “It was huge fun, and a huge challenge to create a real person, and not to turn her into just a pantomime dame,” Suchet recalls.

“I had to be very brave. It was demanding, every night, especially when I started getting big laughs, not to be tempted to over-elaborate, but to be disciplined and truthful.”

In 1993, he seized the opportunity to work with Harold Pinter, “one of our greatest men of the theatre, of all time”, he says. Pinter directed Suchet and Lia Williams in the Royal Court’s British premiere of Oleanna, David Mamet’s controversial play about campus gender politics.

“Working with Harold, I discovered a complete and utter soul mate,” he says. “It felt as if he knew me – the person I was, the way I worked. We became very close.”

Suchet also appeared in Pinter at the Pinter, the Jamie Lloyd Company’s 2018 retrospective season at the West End theatre now named after the playwright. “It was an enormous privilege. I dedicated my performance to Harold,” he says.

Looking back at all the characters he has embodied, he still thinks about many of them, and even misses them – Poirot above all, with the recollection of Curtain, the final, deathbed episode in 2013, still a wrench.

“It was as if I had to kill my best friend,” he says. “He wasn’t just a character to me. He gave me my career. He changed my life.”

Given the benefit of hindsight, would he have done anything differently? “I wouldn’t change a single day. My only note to myself as a young actor would be – never be scared. Don’t try to get it right all the time. Have the courage to be wrong. You may do things that people won’t like, but you never fail. You never fail. So always dare.”

David Suchet:  Poirot And More, A Retrospective,  at York Theatre Royal, October 13 at 3pm and 8pm.  Tickets are still available for both shows on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

By Sam Marlowe and Charles Hutchinson

More Things To Do in and around York as corny summer panto ride arrives at a maze. List No. 42, courtesy of The Press, York

Detective at work: Sir David Suchet will dig up his past at York Theatre Royal in October

SUMMER panto in a maze, David Suchet on Poirot, Yorkshire Day celebrations, a SeedBed of new ideas, riverside art, a cancer charity fundraiser and comedy at the double catch Charles Hutchinson’s eye.

New signing of the week: David Suchet, Poirot And More – A Retrospective, York Theatre Royal, October 13, 3pm and 8pm

SIR David Suchet retraces his steps as a young actor in his 20-theatre tour of Poirot And More, A Retrospective, where he looks back fondly at his five-decade career, shedding a new, intimate light on his most beloved performances.

Geoffrey Wansell, journalist, broadcaster, biographer and co-author of Poirot And Me, interviews the actor behind the detective and the many characters Suchet has portrayed on stage and screen. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Joshing around: After York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime last Christmas, now Josh Benson s magic beans have created the new Crowmania Ride summer panto at York Maze

Summer pantomime on wheels? Yes, on York Maze’s Crowmania Ride until September 6. Maze opening hours: 10am to 6.30pm; last admission, 3.30pm

CORNTROLLER of Entertainment Josh Benson is the creative mind behind the new Crowmania Ride at York Maze, Elvington Lane, York.

York Maze reopened for the first time since 2019 on July 17, with York actor, magician, comedy turn and pantomime star Benson and his team of actors taking the redeveloped Crowmania attraction “to a new level” on a trailer towed by a tractor every 20 to 30 minutes from 11am to 5pm. “The scariest thing is the bad puns!” promises director of operations David Leon.

In a 20-minute pantomime on wheels, Crowmania’s loose plot involves The Greatest Crowman encouraging the crows to eat farmer Tom’s corn, while his villainy stretches to creating genetically modified corn-based creatures too. Expect theatrical set-pieces, multitudinous curious animatronics and special effects. 

Erika Noda: Reflecting on her dual heritage on tonight’s SeedBed bill at At The Mill, Stillington

“Fantastic nights of artistic creation”: SeedBed at At The Mill, Stillington, near York, tonight until Saturday, 7pm to 10pm nightly

BILLED as “New Work. Good Food. Big Conversations”, the first ever SeedBed promises three nights, three different line-ups, three opportunities to see new ideas on their first outings, each hosted by Polly from Jolly Allotment, who will cook a nutritious supper each evening and discuss nourishment.

Tonight features At The Mill’s resident artists, plus Paula Clark’s class-and-disadvantage monologue Girl, Jack Fielding’s stilt act in Deus and Erika Noda’s Ai, examining growing up dual heritage in predominantly white York.

Tomorrow combines Robert Douglas Finch’s Songs Of Sea And Sky; Jessa Liversidge’s Looping Around set of folk tunes, original songs and layered looping and Henry Bird’s combo of classical poetry extracts and his own words.

Saturday offers The Blow-Ins’ A Gentle Breeze, an acoustic Celtic harp and guitar set, to be experienced in silence; Gong Bath, a session of bathing in the sound of gongs, and Jessa Liversidge’s second Looping Around (Your Chance To Sing) session.

Papillon, by Adele Karmazyn, who is taking part in Saturday’s York River Art Market

York River Art Market, Dame Judi Dench Walk, by Lendal Bridge, York, Saturday and Sunday, 10.30am to 5.30pm

MORE than 30 artists and makers will take part in days five and six of this summer’s riverside weekend art markets, organised by York abstract painter and jewellery designer Charlotte Dawson.

Given the busy traffic across both days last weekend, Charlotte is considering doing more full weekends next year rather than the present emphasis on Saturdays.

Among Saturday’s artists will be York digital photomontage artist and 2021 YRAM poster designer Adele Karmazyn and Kwatz, the small indie fashion label directed by Amanda Roseveare. 

On Sunday, look out for York College graphics tutor Monica Gabb’s Twenty Birds range of screen prints, tea towels, mugs, cards, bags and hanging decorations; York artist Linda Combi’s illustrations and Louise Taylor Designs, travelling over from Lancashire with her floral-patterned textile designs for cushions, tea towels, oven gloves and more besides.

Lightning Seeds’ Ian Broudie: Headlining Meadowfest

Festival of the week: Meadowfest, Malton, Saturday, 10am to 10pm

MALTON, alias “Yorkshire’s food capital”, plays host to the Meadowfest boutique summer music and street fodder festival this weekend in the riverside meadows and gardens of the Talbot Hotel.

On the bill, spread over two stages, will be headliners Lightning Seeds, Arthur “The God of Hellfire” Brown, York party band Huge, Ben Beattie’s After Midnight Band, Flatcap Carnival, Hyde Family Jam, Gary Stewart, Penny Whispers, The Tengu Taiku Drummers and more besides.

“Expect a relaxed festival of uplifting sunshine bands, all-day feasting and dancing like no-one’s watching,” says the organisers. Box office: tickettailor.com/events/visitmalton/

Forge Zine and Hallmark Theatre present Yorkshire Day: Night Of Arts! at The Crescent community venue in York on Sunday

Marking God’s Own Country’s wonderfulness: Yorkshire Day: Night Of Arts!, The Crescent, York, Sunday, 8pm

FORGE Zine and Hallmark Theatre band together for a Yorkshire Day night of creativity, fun and varied entertainment, replete with actors, musicians, writers and artists.

Expect spoken word, visual art, live music, scene extracts and comedy on a pleasant, relaxed, wholly Yorkshire evening, bolstered by the chance to buy artworks and books. Box office: thecrescentyork.seetickets.com.

Steve Cassidy: Joining up with friends for the Songs And Stories For York Against Cancer fundraiser

Fundraiser of the week: Songs And Stories For York Against Cancer, with Steve Cassidy Band and friends, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, Sunday, 7.30pm

A NIGHT of songs and stories by some of York’s best-known performers, who “celebrate a return to normality” by supporting a charity that helps others still on the road to recovery.

Taking part will be Steve Cassidy, Mick Hull, John Lewis, Billy Leonard, Graham Hodge, Graham Metcalf, Geoff Earp and Ken Sanderson. Box office: josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Sara Barron: Playing York, Leeds and Selby on her debut British tour of Enemies Closer

Barron nights: Sara Barron on autumn tour in Yorkshire in Enemies Closer

AMERICAN comedian Sara Barron examines kindness, meanness, ex-boyfriends, current husbands, all four remaining friends and two of her 12 enemies in Enemies Closer at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, on October 9.

Further Yorkshire gigs on Barron’s debut British tour will be at Sheaf St, Leeds, on October 20 and Selby Town Hall on September 29.

“Touring this show is truly the fulfilment of a dream,” says Barron. “Come if you dig an artful rant. Stay at home if think you’re ‘a positive person’.” Box office: York, at tickets.41monkgate.co.uk; Leeds and Selby, via berksnest.com/sara.

In need of a reviving cuppa: Omid Djalili has just had to change his Pocklington plans for a second time

Third time lucky: Omid Djalili moves Pocklington gigs again, this time to 2022

OMID Djalili’s brace of shows on July 22 at Pocklington Arts Centre (PAC) have been moved to May 18 and 19 next spring.

British-Iranian comedian, actor, television producer, presenter, voice actor and writer Djalili, 55, originally had been booked for this month’s cancelled Platform Festival at the Old Station, Pocklington.

He subsequently agreed to do two shows in one night at PAC to ensure all those who had purchased tickets for his festival gig would not miss out. The uncertainty brought on by the Government’s delay to Step 4 scuppered those plans. Tickets remain valid for the new dates.

David Suchet digs into his past in Poirot And More retrospective at York Theatre Royal

Retrospective: Sir David Suchet will reflect on 52 years on stage and screen at York Theatre Royal this autumn

SIR David Suchet will retrace his steps as a young actor when he visits 20 theatres with Poirot And More, A Retrospective, playing York Theatre Royal twice on October 13.

After touring the show to Australia and New Zealand in early 2020, the autumn tour will mark his return to the British stage.

Suchet says: “Regional theatre has always been very close to my heart as it’s where my career started and was nurtured. To visit so many places that have meant so much to me during my 52-year career is wonderful.

“This show is my way of connecting and saying hello to people across the country after this terrible period and welcoming them back into the theatre. I am looking forward to sharing my memories, stories and favourite moments.”

“I am looking forward to sharing my memories, stories and favourite moments,” says Sir David Suchet

In Poirot And More, A Retrospective, 75-year-old Suchet looks back fondly on his illustrious five-decade career, shedding new, intimate light on his most beloved performances in conversation with Geoffrey Wansell, journalist, broadcaster, biographer and co-author of Poirot And Me, as they discuss the actor behind the detective and the many characters Suchet has portrayed on stage and screen

For more than 25 years, Suchet has captivated millions worldwide as Agatha Christie’s dapper Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. Elsewhere, he has graced the world’s stages performing  Shakespeare, Wilde, Albee and Miller and is celebrated for his portrayals of iconic roles such as Lady Bracknell in The Importance Of Being Earnest, Cardinal Benelli in The Last Confession, Joe Keller in All My Sons and Gregory Solomon in The Price. 

Suchet spent 13 years in the Royal Shakespeare Company and remains an associate artist. He is an Emmy award winner and seven-time Olivier Award nominee (for The Merchant Of Venice, Separation, Oleanna, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, Amadeus, All My Sons and The Price). In 2020, he was knighted for services to drama and charity.

Tickets for Suchet’s 3pm and 8pm shows on October 13 are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.