And Then There Were None is one of Agatha Christie’s most popular and widely-read crime novels, and one of her most difficult conundrums to crack. It has been adapted for film, TV, radio and stage more than any other of her novels and, in its tenth anniversary year, the Agatha Christie Theatre Company revives the author’s own theatrical adaptation – with an alternate ending – in a new UK tour.
For those that don’t know, the plot centres on a group of ten people, none of whom know each other, who are lured to an island under the pretence of a weekend party, only to find themselves accused of past crimes and killed off one by one by their mysterious and unseen host. Paranoia ensues as it appears no-one will survive…
The story is full of genuine suspense and twists and turns that leave you scratching your head as to the outcome. However, to present two-and-a-bit hours of theatre that hold the audience’s attention, there needs to be something other than shock factor to carry them through. Throughout, the acting is hammy and raises laughs more often than gasps – it’s honestly difficult to tell whether they’re deliberately sending up the genre, or just missing the mark as far as credibility goes. As each member of the group is picked off in ways that eerily reflect the nursery rhyme of the title, the deaths range from comical (in the cases of Anthony Marsden and William Blore particularly) to jumpy (the sudden gunshot that signals Judge Wargrave’s demise); yet none are actually scary or thrilling, as you’d hope from a show filled with murders.
Some cast members inhabit their characters with ease and pleasing detail, notably Eric Carte as General Mackenzie and Susan Penhaligon as Emily Brent. Ben Nealon also stands out as Philip Lombard, capturing his brash and arrogant humour whilst keeping a dash of likeability in the character. Yet others, including Emmerdale’s Verity Rushworth (Vera Claythorne) and Judith Rae (Ethel Rogers), awkwardly bear the affectations of melodrama; are they gently mocking the now perhaps clichéd tropes of the murder mystery setting? It seems an odd directorial decision if so, and Christie’s deftly woven plot doesn’t really deserve this treatment. It seems, then, that director Joe Harmston and some of his cast have struggled to bring any naturalism to this extraordinary plot – naturalism that is needed in order to maintain real tension and a sense of fear.
Designer Simon Scullion deserves credit for an impressive set that reflects the era of art deco luxury yet becomes claustrophobic in Act II, its large wooden doors creating an imprisoning barrier at the back of the stage. The final scene – its grim ending restored as opposed to Christie’s own happier 1943 adaptation – is certainly a climax in dramatic power as well as plot.
This isn’t a bad night out at the theatre by any means and, particularly for those unfamiliar with the story, it’s a fun opportunity to experience one of Christie’s greatest mysteries. However, the hamminess in some performances creates a hollow feel to the show that undermines the dramatic power of the show.
And Then There Were None is playing at Richmond Theatre until 30 May and tours the UK until 22 August. For tickets and more information, see the ATG tickets website