Ten guests, unfamiliar to each other and apparently with little in common, are lured to an island mansion off the coast of Devon through unusual invites from the enigmatic U.N. Owen. A record mysteriously begins to play, and the voice of an unseen host accuses each person of hiding a guilty secret. It’s not long before the first visitor is found murdered, poisoned by a deadly dose of cyanide. As the body count starts to rise, the remaining survivors realise the killer is not only among them, but is preparing to strike again… and again… and again…
I was really looking forward to seeing arguably one of Agatha Christie’s darkest crime thrillers, particularly as she is among my favourite authors and playwrights, with And Then There Were None being one of my favourite murder mysteries written by her. It started at a lively pace, with the influx of the guests and accompanying dialogue brisk and bustling, stage business energetically reflecting the hive of activity as they arrived and settled in. And that is where my personal issues with the production started: the frantic pace didn’t really alter at all throughout and, as a result, I didn’t get the increasing tension and suspense that I expected, or indeed was promised in the programme notes. Initially some of the dialogue was garbled and inaudible as the clipped received pronunciation from some actors was delivered too quickly to be heard clearly.
However, there were elements that I did enjoy and found to be very successful. There is no doubt at all how committed and hardworking the entire cast were – which was a definite positive, creating a cohesive ensemble production, and some of the characterizations did grow and develop, even if one or two of the casting decisions seemed to be inappropriately aged for their character. The actors were very energized throughout, but this became frenetic and the production lacked dynamic changes to add intensity and build suspense, and some of the pacing appeared to be ‘directed’ rather than innate to the characters. The few moments of stillness that were present were very well executed – no pun intended – and there were good combinations of actors sitting and standing to create different levels as they made full use of the performance space, which was aesthetically pleasing, but the actual murders themselves and responses to them seemed to be rushed and lost dramatic impact (in fact, there was laughter from the audience at some of these murders, and not the nervous type of laughter which may be used as a way to diffuse horror and tension, which seemed to be totally inappropriate for one of Christie’s darkest murder mysteries).
For me, the biggest strengths were the performances from Stephen Fenerty (William Blore), Jess Capes (Vera Claythorne) and Paul Cresser (Philip Lombard); each created distinctive, credible, complex and natural characters, full of passion, anger, strength, resilience, confidence, along with a touch of vulnerability, and each exhibiting excellent stage presence.
The stage itself was minimally set with just a sofa, an armchair and a couple of tables against a white backdrop and plain black floor, so the sumptuous setting of the island mansion was lost and the visual effect lessened. Although the programme intimated that the era had been given a “slightly more modern edge” by shifting it from the late 1930s to 1953, there really wasn’t any clear reference to period and the costumes seemed to be more from the earlier time than the 1950s. There were times when the narrative made reference to sounds occurring, but there were no accompanying sound effects to make sense of that aspect of the conversations. However, when there were low level rumblings of a storm continuously under the dialogue, these added very effectively to the ambience and I wish more attention had been paid to this side of the production.
Although lighting may have seemed to be basic for large amounts of time, this was deceptive with judicious use of creative, atmospheric effects; as with the sound effects, I wish more had been used of these to add another layer to building sensations of fear and apprehension, as what was used was most effective.
I so wanted to love this production, but ended up feeling frustrated that what promised so much as a “gripping, exciting and involving experience” didn’t quite deliver to its own high expectations.
Runs until Saturday 26 January.