And Then There Were None
Fiery Angel, ROYO and Royal and Derngate
Cambridge Arts Theatre
And Then There Were None was described by Agatha Christie as the most difficult book she ever wrote, and I can imagine adapting the novel for stage was no mean feat. It is perhaps one of Christie’s most well-known works, given that it is the best-selling mystery novel of all time, as well as having the chequered history of its unfortunate previous book titles. The jury is out on whether this particular production at The Cambridge Arts Theatre fully works or not.
Lucy Bailey is something of an Agatha Christie expert after directing an excellent production of Witness for the Prosecution, now in its 6th year at London’s County Hall. Bailey directs these productions with a terrific sense of pace, and this is certainly evident at times in this production. The ‘set-up’, in particular, is impressive towards the start of the performance and the comic delivery of lines works effectively. For me, the first act in this instance drags a little and I could sense lots of fidgeting amongst my fellow spectators. The use of flashback is used sparingly and more of this would be useful as when we do see the figures from the past, it really does work well.
Perhaps the set-up in a murder mystery is always going to be less pleasing than the dénouement, yet the second act seemed tighter and much more engaging than the first. Is it the script, or the fact that the opening up of Mike Britton’s set design gives space to breath and for the actors to move? Certainly, I feel as though the input from Ayse Tashkiran, the movement director, could really be put to good use with a wonderfully surreal scene in which the inhabitants of Soldier Island turn animalistic and feral. It is a shame that more of this isn’t seen in the first act, as there is a glorious moment of dreamlike, flowing movement at the dinner scene that is all too brief.
I feel that the strongest performers are those that we see the most of. Sophie Walter as Vera Claythorne really grows into her role. It is pleasing to see that Bailey does not shy away from the challenging end to the performance, which—no spoilers—is starkly staged. David Yelland is also terrific as Judge Wargrave in an understated and considered performance. The changing of the butler Thomas Rogers to Georgia Rogers (played by Lucy Tregear) caused great gasps in the audience as she kissed her lover, the maid Jane Pinchbeck (Nicola May-Taylor). I’m not sure what is more surprising, a same-sex couple in Agatha Christie or the fact that some in the Cambridge audience found this such a shock. Whatever, this works well and Tregear portrays Rogers’s disdain for the upper-class guests with suitable aplomb.
The aforementioned set design makes clever use of see-through curtains and a beautifully designed cyclorama, which suggested sky, sea and beach all at once. Chris Davey’s lighting design works well in highlighting the solider figurines that disappear with each death, this despite a slight technical hitch in the first act as I and a couple of rows in the stalls found ourselves mistakenly in the spotlight. The lighting is dark and shadowy in act 1, which leaves some faces unlit allowing for a contrast in act 2 where the colour and brightness seems to echo the upbeat energy towards the reveal at the end.
Of course, I have to be very careful with making sure that I do not reveal the culprit in this review. Despite seeing this story many times in film and TV adaptations, I watched trying to work out who was to blame for the culling of the Owen’s guests. It is safe to say that if you are an armchair detective and enjoy trying to unravel the mystery, you will enjoy this play, despite my misgivings about some aspects of the production.
Reviewer: John Johnson