Peril at End House is a 1940 play based on the 1932 novel of the same name by Agatha Christie. The play is adapted by Arnold Ridley, who much later played Private Godfrey in Dad's Army. Ridley was granted permission to adapt the book in an agreement with Christie dated July 18, 1938.
It was first performed on April 1, 1940 at the Richmond Theatre in London before moving to the Vaudeville Theatre where it opened on May 1, 1940. Despite some positive reviews, the play closed on May 18 after just twenty-three performances. The part of Hercule Poirot was played by Francis L. Sullivan who had previously played the role in Christie's 1930 play Black Coffee.
Ridley changed the name of two of the characters from the novel. Freddie Rice was renamed Frances Rice and Jim Lazarus (who in the novel was Jewish and was the subject of some Semitic references) became Terry Ord. Freddie's drug-addicted husband was billed as "A Stranger".
- Scene 1 - Terrace of the Majestic Hotel
- Scene 2 - Hall at End House. The same evening.
- Scene 1 - The same. Two nights later.
- Scene 2 - The same. Early next morning.
- Scene 3 - The same. The next day.
ACT III (During the course of this Act, the curtain is dropped to indicate the lapse of four hours.)
- The same. The next afternoon.
1940 West End production
The Times reviewed the play twice, firstly in its edition of April 3, 1940 when they commented on Sullivan's portrayal of Poirot stating that he "preserves the essentials of the man, and there is never any doubt that he is indeed the greatest detective in the world". They further commented that the nature of Christie's books meant that they "do not struggle and protest against the limitations of the stage as so many detective stories seem to do when they are adapted". The role of the 'stranger' in the play was felt to belong "to a cruder tradition" however "for the most part, the play is less a 'thriller' than a satisfactory exercise for those little grey cells M. Poirot possesses in such abundance".
The second reviewer, in the edition of May 2, 1940, felt that Poirot was too talkative and that "there are times when we should prefer that the syllogisms were acted rather than spoken, but talk is on the whole agreeably lucid and vivid, and though the solution, when it comes with a sudden rush of action, seems larger and more complicated than the mystery, it cannot be said that the tale anywhere conspicuously hangs fire".
Ivor Brown reviewed the play in The Observer's issue of May 5, 1940 when he said, "Miss Christie knows how to complicate a crime. Mr. Ridley sustains the mystery. The Cornish seas are packed with red herrings, and solvers will also have to keep an eye on some strange old trout. There let the matter rest. The form of entertainment is familiar. It took my mind back to the days of The Bat. In these affairs time does not march on, but M. Poirot agreeably passes by."
"A.D." in The Guardian's review of May 4, 1940 said that the play was, "for those who delight in the complications of the crime novel in its most recent phases. It is wildly complicated, but is it engagingly so?" The reviewer seemed to prefer characters like Sherlock Holmes as a detective rather than Poirot and the "bafflement" that his cases brought. The reviewer then committed the cardinal sin of identifying the murderer in his somewhat ironically-written final paragraph when he said, "There can be no harm in divulging that this play's apparent heroine is really its villainess. Mrs. Christie's readers will know it already. To the ignorant the fact will only be an exhausted torch in a cloudy black-out."
Bernard Buckham in the Daily Mirror of May 3, 1940 said the production, "has its exciting moments , but more action and less talk would have made it a better play."
Cast of 1940 London production
- Francis L. Sullivan as Hercule Poirot
- Wilfred Fletcher as A Stranger
- Donald Bisset as Henry
- Tully Combe as Terry Ord
- Phoebe Kershaw as Frances Rice
- Ian Fleming as Captain Hastings
- Olga Edwardes as "Nick" Buckley
- William Senior as Commander Challenger
- Beckett Bould as Stanley Croft
- Josephine Middleton as Ellen
- Isabel Dean as Maggie Buckley
- Brian Oulton as Charles Vyse
- May Hallatt as Mrs Croft
- Charles Mortimer as Inspector Weston
- Margery Caldicott as Dr. Helen Graham
- Nancy Poultney as Janet Buckley
In December 1983 the play was performed at the Theatre Royal Windsor. The director was Hugh Goldie.
Publication and further adaptations
The play was first published by Samuel French in February 1945 as French's Acting Edition 962, priced four shillings.
A radio version of the play was presented on the BBC Home Service on Saturday, May 29, 1948 from 9.20 to 10.45pm as part of the Saturday Night Theatre strand.