And Then There were None
Fiery Angel, Royal & Derngate and ROYO
Festival Theatre, Malvern
The title is something of a clue, not least about what makes this play a Christie classic. For it’s not just whodunnit, but who-gets-dunnto-next that keeps the audience on the edges of their seats.
The cast of characters is rich and varied: the general, the surgeon, the judge, the attractive young secretary, the racist and cowardly captain and, yes, the private detective. And is there something dodgy in the past of the housekeeper and the cook too?
Ten of them have been invited by a mystery host to a party on an island off the south coast of Devon, but to a deadly do where it seems all of them are walking around with targets on their backs. The guilt they each bear makes me think the piece may have inspired J B Priestley's An Inspector Calls.
Christie's play had previous titles unacceptable today, adapted here to a rhyme of "Ten Little Soldier Boys", and the tension builds as each of them meets a grisly end, and in one case improbably involving a bear, a grizzly one.
The script seems remarkably modern, not just because of the substitution of a same-sex housekeeper-cook relationship, of which the progressive Christie would not have disapproved. But it still takes a great cast to bring out the little touches of character. And this lot could not be faulted.
Familiar performers like David Yelland as the judge and Bob Barrett as the doctor can be relied upon to put it out as if every night is the only night of many, many on tour. And as the general, Jeffery Kissoon’s confession scene cuts through any idea that this is merely a flippant piece of clever construction.
Then there is Andrew Lancel as... whatever he is... and Joseph Beattie's insufferable captain, as arrogantly self-assured as his bristly military moustache.
But the star of the show is Sophie Walter, impressive when previously seen in The Girl on the Train, even more so here in the pivotal role of the secretary Vera, who has her own, moving mea culpa. She has that stage presence that makes her watchable, and if for nothing else, she deserved the centre-stage curtain call for her brave, breathless final bow in the piece—spoiler avoided. A name to watch.
Christie wrote the piece on Burgh Island, the millionaire’s art deco retreat near Bigbury, reached only by sea tractor, and although set further out to sea, the production opens with the sound of the waves and what sounded like the tractor itself.
However, there’s not much feel thereafter for that unique location in the utilitarian set, understandably so in these days of tight production budgets, but I felt the use of drapes across the stage—presumably director Lucy Bailey’s idea of a veil being gradually removed—just felt awkward.
This may not be the most profound play you will see this year. It’s a pot-boiler, but with good ingredients, and immaculately stirred.
The show tour continues to Richmond Surrey, Sheffield, Cambridge, York, Brighton, Guildford, Nottingham, Norwich, Milton Keynes, Bath, High Wycombe, Birmingham, Plymouth, Cardiff, Truro, Bromley and Southampton until 13 April 2024.
Reviewer: Colin Davison