And Then There Were None
Agatha Christie, in a new adaptation by Kevin Elyot
The Mousetrap has been playing in the West End for 53 years. The smart money on Shaftesbury Avenue last night was predicting that this sister piece would have a considerably shorter run. Even if it made as many weeks though, the producers would be laughing all the way to the bank.
The novel on which this play is based was hardly designed to appeal to the politically correct. Its first title, Ten Little Ni**ers was clearly offensive enough to be replaced by the barely more acceptable Ten Little Ind**ns. That too bit the dust to make way for the unexceptionable And Then There Were None.
The novel has already been translated into a 1945 film starring Walter Huston and C.Aubrey Smith, whose dual claim to fame was as a Hollywood actor and former captain of the England cricket team.
The play is set in 1938 on a glamorous set designed by Mark Thompson, which looks like nothing so much as the National Theatre on the South Bank. At the centre of the large living room on Soldier Island is a gigantic golden totem poll around which wind the prophetic words of a gruesome children's fairy tale, Ten Little Soldier Boys in this version
A bevy of the well-to-do have gathered on the island in response to mysterious invitations issued by Mr and Mrs U N Owen. It doesn't take long for them to realise that this unknown couple is just that.
A pivotal moment occurs when the only record on the island, a piece of jazzy dance music suddenly transforms itself into a sinister series of accusations against each of the guests. In an unusually egalitarian move, Miss Christie includes not only the eight obnoxious hedonists in evening dress but also the two servants.
This isn't entirely good news for the latter, as the party quickly establishes that, like the Soldier Boys laid out on the mantelpiece, they are destined to fall, one by one.
This being a moral story with likenesses to JB Priestley's An Inspector Calls, all ten really have been responsible for murders for which they could never be imprisoned or, in 1938, hanged.
Perhaps unwisely, director Steven Pimlott allows the first death, that of Sam Crane's youthful but rather priggish Anthony Marston, to outdo all of its onstage successors. Prior to expiring, this poor young man reacts to poison by the most spectacular projectile vomit imaginable. So spectacular indeed that the hard-working stage crew was given a three-minute interval in which to complete the clearing up process.
Thereafter, the group lives out the fairy story in a fashion familiar to those who have seen the film or recent National Theatre stage production of Theatre of Blood.
Indeed, when the obsequious, estuarine butler played by John Ramm starts hamming it up, Jim Broadbent's mad Shakespearean actor-manager in that production on the South Bank is immediately brought to mind.
It is almost inevitable that the murderer will be selected from one of the big names in the cast. However, it would be invidious to suggest whether the perpetrator was seductive Vera Claythorne played by Tara Fitzgerald, who also provides love-interest in a scene with Anthony Howell's unrepentant Captain Lombard, Gemma Jones's prim Miss Brent or pompous Justice Wargrave (given irascible life by Richard Johnson). To find that out whether it was one of them or selected from the remaining seven, you will have to book a ticket.
This is all reasonably good fun, if undemanding and rather predictable. At times, neither the audience nor the cast seemed absolutely certain as to whether the latter were playing a comic spoof of Agatha Christie or the real thing. In a strange way, this didn't seem to matter.