And Then There Were None
Fiery Angel, Royal & Derngate, Northampton and ROYO co-production
Agatha Christie's novel was published in 1939 on the cusp of WW2 and after years of hardship and economic recession following WW1. It was adapted as a play and performed to enthusiastic audiences from September 1943 to July 1944 and has since seen regular stage revivals as well as film and TV versions.
In the current production, the complex plot has been scaled down to two acts lasting not much more than an hour each while developing the relationships between several of the characters. The writing is concise and the tight structure effective in providing essential information which moves the action on.
At the opening of the play, ten characters invited to stay in an Art Deco hotel on obscure and unfrequented Soldier Island by an unknown host have to be introduced to the audience. The host's secretary repeats names as she introduces people on arrival, essential for an audience trying to distinguish between characters. At this point, clarity of diction and good projection are essential.
A clever device leads us into the main action. The butler has been ordered to play a recording on the antiquated gramophone. It is the host accusing each guest of a murder fuelled by self-interest and inhumanity which has gone unpunished. The time for retribution is nigh.
A sequence is established by which each guest in turn is the victim of a revenge murder. An unimpressive detective joins a Judge, a Doctor, the highest status members of the group, in attempting to identify the revenger. A hopelessly uncontrolled General is too overwhelmed to help and reactions range from further emotionalism to despair before an inventive twist concludes the action.
The gauze curtains swathing the set permit scene changes and conceal areas where bodies are discovered. A useful convention allows the victims to rise from the dead and walk off the stage with appropriate slow dignity. This is a helpful device for the audience who can check which character has been disposed of.
The stage version lacks what is offered in film versions and more particularly in a TV series where actors have plenty of time to flesh out their characters, adding their own in-depth characterisation and invention to the script. This is evident in David Suchet's ownership of the Poirot character in many dramatisations of the Christie stories where he adds a welcome vein of comedy to his interpretation.
The current cast is made up of actors with wide experience of stage acting and TV performance. David Yelland is commanding as Judge Wargrave, Joseph Beattie gives an assured, relaxed performance as Philip Lombard and Lucy Tregear as the 'butler' and Sophie Walter as Vera Claythorn bring emotional integrity to their roles.
Director Lucy Bailey has been drawn to And Then There Were None for some time and feels that it represents the times we are living through, a time of wars and rumours of wars when "we feel like the world is hurtling towards the abyss." Certainly the group of characters that have been brought together are directly or indirectly responsible for the death of their victims and have evaded punishment, by repressing guilt and not facing up to their crimes. This thoughtful interpretation of the play is not without flaws but worth seeing.
Reviewer: Velda Harris