And Then There Were None
Agatha Christie Theatre Company
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
With the tenth anniversary of the Agatha Christie Theatre Company coinciding with the 125th anniversary of her birth, it seemed a celebration was called for, so for this year’s tour the company has chosen her best-selling mystery which is considered to be her masterpiece and reputably the most difficult to write.
Ten diverse people are invited to make their way to a tiny, remote island off the coast of Devon with the promise of a job, a holiday, a meeting with old friends or whatever. They are to stay at a very luxurious house close to the shore, and as the guests arrive they are briefly introduced and begin to get to know each other, but mysteriously their hosts, a Mr and Mrs U N Owen, are missing.
The storm now raging outside means they are completely cut off from the outside world and, when a gramophone record playing jazzy music suddenly changes to the voice of their host accusing each and every one of them of murder, the shock stops the frivolous mood instantly. They are told they must pay for their crimes, and then the panic and the claustrophobia really set in.
A poster on the wall called Ten Little Soldiers is the verse of an old nursery rhyme (the original title we are not allowed to say anymore), and ten little plaster soldiers sit on the mantlepiece below. The guests try to treat the record as a tasteless joke, but when the little soldiers begin to disappear one at a time, each exactly coinciding with the death of one of the party, they begin to look suspiciously at each other. Someone here must be the killer, there is no one else on the island, but who is it?
Simon Scullion has surpassed himself with this 1930s set, all curved panelling and a huge circular window giving views of the sea and sky. Lighting and sound change the mood and the time of day and often increase the tension which, as time passes and another ‘soldier’ has gone, becomes unbearable for the characters, a feeling they successfully transmit to the audience creating a totally gripping and enthralling story.
Each death has to resemble the next line in the rhyme and ingeniously Christie has made sure they do.
Some of the characters do not consider their actions as murder and feel perfectly justified in their actions, most particularly the matronly Emily Brent. Self righteous, opinionated and completely shocked by the backless evening dress of the glamorous Vera Claythorne (Verity Rushworth), Susan Penhaligon gives such a convincing and compelling performance that I found myself watching her even when she is simply sitting centre stage and concentrating on her knitting while the main action continues around her.
She is almost unrecognisable in the character, as is Paul Nicholas as retired Judge Sir Lawrence Wargrave, taking charge of the assembled company and trying to organise them logically.
The original production in 1943 changed the story slightly to give a more positive ending for audiences in the middle of a war. Here they have decided to be more faithful to Christie's original intentions and the ending has reverted to her version in the novel, and very effective it is too. It will keep you guessing right to the very end—and even then…
Joe Harmeston has directed a cracking production, engrossing, exciting and a real thriller. The best one yet from this remarkable company, and hopefully many more to come.
Reviewer: Sheila Connor