And Then There Were None – Review – Leeds Grand
And Then There Were None – Review
Leeds Grand Theatre, August 2015
by Pauline Cooper
The Agatha Christie Theatre Company’s 2015 production And Then There Were None, in celebration of a decade of the writer’s stage works, is arguably one of the most atmospheric and chilling.
A gunshot cracks across a darkened, candle-lit room, the audience gasps, the tension mounts with the body count. The three-act play opens, in a compact and illuminating first act, with eight guests arriving at an extraordinary art-deco house on an island off Plymouth to be met by a housekeeper and his wife. The person or persons who invited them is absent.
A mysterious recording is played outlining accusations of foul criminal intent against all those present… they can’t leave of course, there is no phone, no boat… and so it begins as the first of the guests perishes.
Christie’s remarkable body of work is generally set in a more genteel era. For those of us more accustomed to the violent and bizarre contents of TV murder mysteries such as Midsomer Murders or Morse, it can seem dated and tame. But judging from the attendance, and reaction, of the opening night crowd, the play still holds plenty of appeal to theatre-goers of all ages.
Excellent set design and lighting underscore the precision of delivery of this superb troupe, all highly experienced and with the gravitas required to tackle surprising revelations, guilt, conscience and heartfelt regret with pathos and humour. Yorkshire-born Frazer Hines (most well-known as one of the UK’s famous farmers in Emmerdale) plays housekeeper Rogers who tried to calm the increasingly-agitated guests, with other familiar faces including Neil Stacy (Sir Lawrence Wargrave) and Mark Curry (Doctor Armstrong).
Kezia Burrows as Vera Claythorne shone. She portrays her character as a feckless flirt before evolving into a troubled young woman with a dark secret. This play is the 12th production from the company. It follows the huge success of last year’s national tour of Black Coffee.
Producer Joe Harmston explains in programme notes that he chose to set the production in 1939. This was the year the book was published. Christie’s characters, he says, are a very definite function of their time and the experiences their age affords them.
August 1939 was a fraught month in international politics with the spectre of war never far from anyone’s minds. In this context, the small island setting is crucial. Claustrophobia is a terrifying sensation familiar to everyone.
Christie’s portrayal of her characters demonstrates her complex understanding of people and the crimes they commit. Her murderers are always unsettlingly invisible. In this production of And Then There Were None, the perpetrators may not even regard themselves as murderers. They are simply as victims of circumstance.
images: Keith Mindham