Synopsis

McCarter play synopses are provided to help inform curious or potential audience members about the story content of our plays in production. They are fairly detailed in their description of a play’s events. Some may want to read the overview of the story of Murder on the Orient Express below before the performance, while others may skip the synopsis to avoid the revelation of plot points before experiencing the play in performance. The choice is up to you!

Famed Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, sits in the dining room of the Tokatlian Hotel in Istanbul, waiting to hear if he has obtained last-minute passage on the renowned Orient Express. While reading his newspaper, he overhears a curious conversation between a young British woman, who is overly anxious about missing the train, and her Scottish companion. Monsieur Bouc, head of Wagons Lits—the company that owns the Orient Express—appears and spots his old friend, Poirot. The two catch up and Poirot admits his difficulty in procuring a ticket for the train. Bouc is shocked to learn that the Orient Express is unseasonably sold-out and promises to arrange accommodations for his friend.

As departing passengers arrive on the smoky, steam-filled platform, they are greeted by Michel, a handsome French conductor. Poirot and Bouc observe as an eclectic group of characters board the train: Princess Dragomiroff, an elderly Russian exile; Greta Ohlsson, the princess’s Swedish travel companion; the young British woman from the hotel, Mary Debenham, a governess; her friend, Colonel Arbuthnot, a Scottish military man; Samuel Ratchett, an arrogant American businessman; Hector MacQueen, Ratchett’s nervous American secretary; Countess Eléna Andrenyi, a beautiful and intelligent Hungarian aristocrat; and Helen Hubbard, a flamboyantAmerican socialite. Poirot discloses to Bouc that he senses tension amongst this motley crew of passengers, which fills him with a sense of dread.

Aboard the train, Ratchett approaches Poirot and offers the detective five thousand dollars to discover the identity of an anonymous enemy who is sending him threatening letters. Poirot, disconcerted by Ratchett’s gruff and unsavory behavior, declines. As day fades into night, he Orient Express hits a snow drift and becomes immobilized. Then, just after midnight, a shriek is heard from Ratchett’s room. Poirot and Bouc rush to investigate the disturbance and are appeased when a voice from inside the compartment explains—in French—that it was a nightmare.

Spoiler alert! If you would like to read what happens next in the story, click here.

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