‘Prisoners at the bar, have you anything to say in your defence?’
Ten guests invited to a Devonshire Island, brought together by what appears to be chance. It soon transpires that it is no coincidence that these people have been chosen to inhabit the empty, eerie house on Soldier Island. As dark pasts are revealed, they soon realise that this is no holiday, but purgatory; and what waits for them will prey upon them until their last breath. A tale of judgement, mystery and penance: And Then There Were None is Agatha Christie’s seminal crime thriller.
For all those who are familiar with the book before seeing the play, you will know what an utterly clever and ingenious wordsmith Agatha Christie is. Her novels bristle with subterfuge and revelation, partly because Christie, having hooked the reader into her death filled, thrill laced world can rely upon the reader’s imagination to fill in the shadowy corners and propel the lingering joy of suspense.
On stage, however, it is much harder for her work to be as mysterious as it is on the page. The audience sees the action unfold and so there is a sharper emphasis on how the tale is told, in word and in action. Inevitably, Christie’s plays are wordy affairs, set in bygone eras where language, taste, offence and the concept of decency were all very different from today. There might be the occasional clever lighting effect to produce a particular effect or induce a gasp of fear, but, by and large, Christie’s plays only work because of two things: complete conviction by an accomplished cast and a text that gives full weight to Christie’s labyrinthine plotting.
Last night’s performance at The Drama Barn of And Then There Were None certainly accomplished this. There is no futile attempt to update the play or tamper with it in ways counter to its ingenuity; the directors Jared More and Kosi Carter approached the staging with respect and considerable care.
The set design itself was excellent; it inhabited a cosy, yet eerie vibe that reflected the play perfectly. The decision to not have any set changes and to use just the one room worked extremely well, and despite important events taking place in what would be other rooms or areas in the house, the use of elision for these events created a sense of the unknown (or should I say, U.N.Owen). Although it would have been clever to open up the stage to permit at least some of those events to be witnessed, in part or in shadow, it is nonetheless a testament to the sincerity of the performances that offstage events did not dampen the sense of drama or contribute to any serious notion of being cheated out of anything.
Furthermore, the words of the ‘Ten Little Soldiers’ poem that the play and book pivots around was handwritten in italic font above the fireplace, which was a detailed touch and acted as a point of reference for the audience to follow, keeping them on their toes to help work out the next murder. The infamous ten black chess-pieces that represented each character sat on the mantlepiece below the words, and these finite details made it even more realistic and compelling.
This being Agatha Christie, there is of course a plethora of eccentric characters to divert and hold our attention. Kate Stephenson played Emily Brent brilliantly; a pretentious woman with an eye and ear for scandal and a tongue that is unafraid to lash. Stern, but also fragile and tragic, Stephenson makes Brent much more than the archetype she could so easily be in lesser hands. Eliot Bayley, as the newly hired butler, Rogers, does his best with a limited character, but he infuses the part with an ambivalence that works splendidly for the burgeoning mystery.
It was an interesting touch having Ruth Comerford’s character, Anthea Marston, played by a woman rather than the originally written-in male character named Anthony. Many will be familiar with Douglas Booth’s portrayal of the handsome but amoral and irresponsible young man in the BBC adaptation. Having the character played by a woman and creating a gender subversion, however, provided an interesting twist that made it even more appealing. Despite being cast as the character with the least stage time, Ruth made her character rather comical; her dramatic entrance onto the stage created an energetic atmosphere from the onset and provided the first of many comic elements that featured in the play – noticeably blowing cigarette smoke into Brent’s face and spilling her drink down herself. These comic elements lifted the play.
The relationship between Vera Claythorne and Captain Phillip Lombard was, perhaps, not as fiery or fervent as it could’ve been, but nonetheless the character relationships as a whole were brilliant; the constant sparring off of one another and the underlying tension was something to be expected in a murder mystery plot. Every character brought something new to the table and all of their individual quirks shone through, showing thorough research and character development by the actors’ themselves.
All-in-all, Drama Barn’s And Then There Were None doesn’t present anything ground-breaking, nor something that suggests re-imagination of the classic or thriller genre. Rather, this is a well-judged, as-it-says-on-the-tin performance of a classy, complex, old-fashioned thriller; something that in this modern day, is surprisingly refreshing.
And Then There Were None is being shown at the Drama Barn at 7:30pm from the 11th – 13th November. All the photographs featured were taken by Gareth Young.