Chris Eldon Lee reviews “And Then There Were None”, which is at Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre until Saturday 7th February, Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre from the 16th to 21st of February and Clwyd Theatr Cymru from April 7th to 11th.
The book sold 100 million copies world wide, making it the world’s best-selling mystery novel ever. So you’d expect the stage adaptation to be equally as popular …and you’d be right; especially as it’s in the hands of The Agatha Christie Theatre Company, which specialises to the extent of doing nothing else.
The story has had a number of incarnations. It’s original title is now politically incorrect – hence the adoption of the American name. It was published in 1939, and the stage version in 1943 had a slightly cheerier end, to boost wartime moral. But we’re back to the more sinister conclusion in this new production…set at the time of Christie’s writing.
Ten guests – each with a dubious past – are invited for a jolly weekend at an Art Nuevo hotel on a secluded island off the coast of Devon, inspired by Christie’s visits to Burgh Island. Here, with the weather closing in, they are systematically bumped off along the lines of a children’s rhyme “Ten Little Solider Boys” (also re-titled for diplomacy) posted over the fireplace. On the mantelpiece stand ten soldier figurines, which diminish like the “Ten Green Bottles” of that other childhood rhyme. Just to add spice, sometimes the figure fractures before we even know there’s been a death.
The fun in the incremental bloodbath is trying to work out who-dun-it…or in this case who’s-doing-it. It can be a charmingly infuriating occupation. My guess was still alive at the first interval, still alive at the second interval, and still alive at the end – but it still wasn’t him! Director Joe Harmston likens Christie’s island to TV’s Big Brother House…and it’s a fair comparison, except that the eliminations are more permanent.
Fortunately for the audience, the weakest actors get bumped off first. The famous names fare better…despite the passage of time rendering them less recognisable.
Susan Penhaligon is superb as the ancient, knitting, bible-quoting, cold-hearted old woman – ever moralising about “the rowdy behaviour of young people today” (this in 1939). It’s a feisty, character cameo and a delight to watch. You can’t warm to her, but you rather hope she’s not at the top of the hit list.
Mark Curry is suitably jittery as the nerve doctor who lost his own nerve long ago, and Paul Nicholas is a towering ringmaster of a judge who decides to hold court to get to the bottom of it all…before it’s too late. Nicholas has a fabulously resonant stage voice and it’s a most commanding old-school performance.
Of the youngsters, Verity Rushworth is sexily seductive as the recently appointed secretary to the owners of the Island, who are inexplicably absent. She pulls off the 30s style exquisitely …wriggling her bare back to lure her hoped for lover…a dashing matinee idol played by Ben Nealon.
Christie keeps us guessing of course. Her plotting is ever meticulous and so flawless it’s worth seeing the show twice to follow her trail of clues to the killer. The one hint no one on stage seems to notice, revolves around the identity of the missing host, whose initials are U.N.O. – you know.