And Then There Were None
Paul Johnson | 09 Sep 2011 16:41pm
I think I must have lead a sheltered life. I was probably one of the few people present in the Edward Alderton Theatre to have never read the novel, seen the film or have the faintest idea whodunnit in Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. But then, I’ve never been a Christie aficionado. Perhaps it’s my aversion to the constant recycling of her works as endless episodes of Marple, Poirot and ITV Mystery Movies (the greatest mystery to me being why people watch them in the first place). So what on earth was I doing reviewing one of her plays? Well, the truth is, I just fancied it. As with Comfort Food, sometimes you just want to veg out in front of some undemanding Comfort Theatre. The surprise was that ATTWN turned out to be altogether darker and rather less cosy than I thought. Eight guests are enticed by a mysterious and unseen couple (Mr & Mrs U. N. Owen! geddit?) to stay in a house on ‘Soldier Island’ off the Devon coast. The presence of a housekeeping couple who have been hired for the weekend makes ten. It soon becomes horribly clear that these are Ten Little Sitting Ducks, to paraphrase the play’s original politically-incorrect title. One by one, each is picked off at the hands of an unseen murderer who seems to be dishing out grisly retribution for past crimes (it transpires that each guest has been responsible for someone else’s death and gone unpunished for it). And there is no escape from the island. As the bodies pile up in ever-more bizarre ways the plot starts to resemble a surreal theatrical version of Cluedo (on the balcony crushed by a large bear-shaped stone statue, anyone?) To keep it all going crafty old Aggie has thrown in every kind of staple character you’d expect to find in an English murder mystery: the dodgy military man with a past, the morally superior spinster, the foppish devil-may-care young blade about town and (inevitably) a doctor. Somewhat untypically, there’s also a loud-mouthed and rather repellent South African, but quickly (and predictably) he turns out to be an English detective, there incognito to keep an eye on things. The feeling of claustrophobic menace was effectively ratcheted up by some subtle lighting and sound effects, although I did feel that in Act 1 the latter were a little too subtle to establish the seaside location. Incongruously, a solitary seagull squawked loudly at one point in the first act, but was quickly silenced. An early victim of the murderer, perhaps? Performances were uniformly convincing for the most part, particularly Rod Henderson as Captain Lombard, Helen Bezer as Vera Claythorne and Tony Donelly as Sir Lawrence Wargrave, although the latter did lapse a little into melodrama towards the end.
Ben Cowen displayed the required insouciant swagger as the arrogant socialite Anthony Marston, but lacked projection. And I was puzzled as to why Kevin Coward distracted us from his good performance as William Blore by wearing a suit with matching jacket and waistcoat, but unmatched trousers. Most puzzling of all though was the alarming number of prompts taken by the cast, considering this was the final night of the run.
But these are minor quibbles. We enjoyed ‘And Then There Were None’ enormously and were gripped throughout, which is probably all you should expect of Agatha Christie.
A classic whodunnit, dun very well indeed.
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- : 14/06/2011