Though her famous creations Miss Marple and Piorot are rarely off our television screens in one form or another, And Then There Were None – first staged in the West End in 1943 – is rather different animal: more morality play then whodunit romp; an examination of the nature of justice.
The play opens with ten individuals sitting around a dinner table. Ten strangers it turns out, who have all be invited to the remote Soldier Island by the mysterious Mr U N Owen (even his servants have never met the man). What ensues is, at some points gruesome, but always entertaining and puzzling, as one by one the individuals are killed according to macabre words of the children’s nursery rhyme from which the title is taken.
The cast is uniformly excellent, boasting some very well known faces. In particular Tara Fitzgerald is tremendous, playing Miss Vera Claythorne, a games teacher who adds a touch of glamour and sex-appeal to the gathering. Anthony Howell is also excellent as the morally ambiguous Phillip Lombard. And Gemma Jones gives a chilling turn as Miss Emily Brent, a religious zealot convinced of the righteousness of her actions; Richard Johnston too imbues his Justice Wargrave with just the right mixture of pillar-of-the-community uprightness and subtle sadism.
However it is not the characters which drive this play, but the intricacies and intelligence of the plot and Eylot and director Steven Pimlott have recognised this and sensibly left well alone. Instead they have used all the tricks of the theatre to create an atmosphere as tense and frightening as the looming storm that keeps the guests’ boat trapped on the mainland.
The dialogue – which was never Christie’s strong point – has cleverly been updated without changing the essentials of the plot. And the set is fantastic: a glimmering Art Deco mansion, the highlight of which is a grand silver column reaching to the ceiling, the words of that nursery rhyme printed on it. The set manages to convey much to the audience about the time period and the class of the people caught up in this lethal little game – it even appears to close in as the action reaches its tense climax.
Initially the production gives the sense of a cosy, Sunday afternoon in front of the telly take on Christie’s play, but by the time it reaches the second half it has become something much darker. Thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish, one hopes this might lead the way to more daring productions of Christie’s work in the future.