‘And Then There Were None’ is an enthralling mystery play from the world-renowned playwright, Agatha Christie. It is considered her masterpiece, and according to the lady herself, was her most difficult book to write. Originally published in November 1939 (when Agatha was 49 yrs.) it was titled ‘Ten Little Niggers’, a name unsuitable for the American market; so, it was adapted and reprinted as ‘Ten Little Indians’ – not surprisingly, this was not too popular a name in Canada either, and so now we have ten little soldiers. It is the world’s seventh, best-selling book.
This gripping two-and-a-half-hour drama from Modicum Theatre Perth Inc., a not-for-profit Perth theatre company run by passionate performers, bringing you enjoyable and pioneering theatrical productions. This play can be seen at the comfortable Nexus Theatre, near car park 3, Murdoch University, South Street, Murdoch at the earlier time of 7.00 pm each night until Saturday 8th July.
The setting is Soldier Island, off the coast of Devon, in August 1930.
The scene is a huge and lavish sitting room, with quality furniture including winged armchairs, a sofa and quality wooden bookcases and tables. The rear wall has an antique fireplace at one side with ten china soldiers, dressed in regimental scarlet jackets and busbies on the mantlepiece; at the other side of the stage, was a set of patio doors overlooking the Bristol Channel. The doors – not surprisingly for a theatre set – had no glass, but one actor put a hand around the glazing bars to close the door, the audience laughed. There was no set ‘outside’ the patio doors. Not even a white or blue flat, just a black drape. When the cast referred to the stunning view and beautiful day, there was no light, no plants, nothing – just a black drape. Disappointing, especially if poor Joel Armstrong was left to build and find props for the set by himself.
The play opens as the butler, Rogers (Ryan Partridge), and his henpecking wife, Ethel the cook (Andrea Kendrick) are checking the food supplies for a private gathering. The couple were hired by Mr and Mrs Owen, a couple of weeks earlier, to clean and prepare the newly purchased, remote island house and to look after their guests.
As there is no ferry to the island, a local fisherman, Fred Narracot (Amber Jantjies) transports any guests and domestic requirements to the house. Today, on his first voyage, he has brought a young schoolmistress, Vera Claythorne (Hayley Lyons) and a couple of men. The first is flirtatious Phillip Lombard (Jonathan Maddocks) a mercenary, military officer who has just returned from Africa; he is accompanied by a reckless, self-centred young student, Anthony Marston (Steven Correia).
On his second crossing, Fred has ferries the mysterious South African, Richard Davis (Sean Wcislo), the semi-senile, war hero General Mackenzie (Jordan Baynes) and the religious zealot, the elderly prim, Emily Brent (Em Dickinson). The last two guests to arrive are a heartless, retired judge, Justice Wargrave (Hannah Anderson) and an alcoholic Harley Street medic, Dr Armstrong (Ryan Nicholson).
Rogers announces that their hosts have been delayed and won’t be arriving until the following day, but that the guests should all make themselves at home in the meanwhile. However, when a cryptic recording is played to the gathering, it seems that they all have sordid pasts and because of that, each one may well die over the next 24 hours.
Christie has precisely created and written eleven very different characters. The butler is a domineering man and his wife a nervous, downtrodden person. Lombard is a flirtatious but cruel mercenary and so on, but not in this show. Each person’s personality is specifically designed to create red herrings, and throw the audience off the scent. Role play is essential in this genre of theatre; however, the cast took almost an hour to get their chemistry going.
Director Laura Hodges, who was assisted by Stephanie Ferguson, should take a firmer hand with the cast – they may be your friends, but in the theatre ‘the show’ is more important, so don’t be shy in getting strict. One actor had no idea how to say the name ‘Ogilvie’, another did not know how to pronounce ‘Salisbury’ and one actor used the word ‘ingenuous’ instead of ‘ingenious’ and this was not a fluff.
The General and Miss Blunt are both elderly, a little makeup, a beard (for the General), glasses or hair whitening would have emphasised their age. The General remembers back to his young wife of 25, when he still looks under 25 himself. Costume design by Hannah Bardsley was good and matched the characters well.
The cast knew their lines well, so were word perfect, but lacked guidance.
I am sorry if this review seems tough, but the play was lacking in so many areas.
Even if you have seen this play half a dozen times, there are so many red herrings that I am sure you will still have trouble recalling the killer.
During the interval, I saw the stage manager Beck Thorman removing a soldier, so I guessed that she was the murderer, however SPOILER ALERT: The murderer was aargh …. gasp ….. Sorry but the reviewer has also succumbed.
Audiences love a good thriller, and this is one of Agatha’s very best. A little sloppy, but still definitely worth seeing for the good value, whodunit style and the suspense. The audience, who may never have seen this style of play before, really loved it. It is even suitable for ‘thinking’ 10 or 12 years olds.