Although having read and thoroughly enjoyed And Then There Were None (1939), last year, today was the first time I had seen it staged in the theatre. And Then There Were None has been staged many times over the years, since 1943 and even adapted for film.
The story is set on an island off the coast of Southern Britain, upon which is a house apparently owned by Mr and Mrs Owen and they have invited 8 guests and 2 domestic staff. These are:
• Sir Lawrence Wargrave, Judge (played by Paul Nicholas)
• William Blore, Policeman (played by Colin Buchanan)
• Emily Brent (played by Susan Penhaligon)
• Doctor Armstrong (played by Mark Curry)
• Vera claythorne, Secretary (played by Verity Rushworth)
• Rogers, Butler (played by Frazer Hines)
• Philip Lombard, Adventurer (played by Ben Nealon)
• General Mackenzie (played by Eric Carte)
• Ethel Rogers, Cook (played by Judith Rae)
• Anthony Marston, lover of fast cars (played by Paul Hassall)
However, the mystery begins when everyone realises that their host and hostesses aren’t on the island. Things become even more mysterious when a gramophone record (the butler has been instructed to play by the owners) states how everyone present on the island has been responsible for someone’s death and gotten away with it. It is also noticed that within the house are 10 figurines and a poem on the wall: Ten Little Solider Boys:
Ten Little Soldier Boys went out to dine, one choked his little self and then there were nine.
Nine Little Soldier Boys stayed up very late; One overslept himself and then there were eight.
Eight Little Soldier Boys travelling in Devon; One said he’d stay there and then there were seven.
Seven Little Soldier Boys chopping up sticks; One chopped himself in halves and then there were six.
Six Little Soldier Boys playing with a hive; A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.
Five Little Soldier Boys going in for law one got in Chancery and then there were four.
Four Little Soldier Boys going out to sea; A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.
Three Little Soldier Boys walking in the zoo; A big bear hugged one and then there were two.
Two Little Soldier Boys sitting in the sun; One got frizzled up and then there was One.
One Little Soldier Boy left all alone; He went and hanged himself and then there were none.
Of course there is a flurry of instant denials, but things become serious when the first dies… fitting the method described in the poem. The party quickly conclude that Mr and Mrs Owen and are fictitious and a thorough search of the island leads to the idea that the person responsible must be one of them. The tension mounts as the other characters try to desperately figure out who the killer is, whilst all the while the body count gets higher and higher…
‘I don’t know. I don’t know at all. And that’s what frightening the life out of me. To have no idea…’
I really enjoyed this production and I felt they did well adapting the material, especially since they had to convert a novel which has events occurring inside and outside the house into a play which occurs in a living room. In particular I thought the use of the big art deco door at the back of the stage with a sky and balcony worked really in evoking a sense of an outdoors nearby, alongside the music which included sea gulls and other atmospheric scores. The majority of the deaths occur off stage, yet the shock of these was portrayed well by the other characters who become increasingly nervous, frightened and panic stricken. The dialogue was engaging, which is not surprising as the programme indicates that all the words are original to Christie. I also liked how they tried to make the ending fit more closely to the novel’s original ending, although this ending did involve the killer more directly and was more interactive and dialogic to meet the needs of it being a stage production.
On the whole the handling of the poem element was good. However, in the story as the victims pile up, one of the soldier boy figurines is mysteriously knocked down or taken away, which makes the characters even more unsettled. But for me this element of the plot could have been improved in its execution as in the production it was relatively obvious that various characters who weren’t necessarily the killer were removing or breaking the figurines whenever they happened to be near the fireplace. With the levels of technology available today, I think something else could have been done in this area.
This is definitely Christie at her best, with a good solution to the mystery and it was enjoyable watching those in the audience, new to story, react to the ending – proof positive that Christie is still shocking and surprising fresh audiences. Moreover, the cast and script were excellent and it was an afternoon well spent.