“And Then There Were None” is one of the best-selling novels of all time with Agatha Christie’s sales surpassed only by the Bible and William Shakespeare. The inscription above the stage at Richmond Theatre which reads “To wake the soul by tender strokes of art,” seems to contrast starkly with the ruthless and unforgiving nature of events in this play.
Eight strangers and two servants receive invitations to stay on Soldier Island, but it quickly becomes evident that they have all been deceived, as connections to their supposed hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Owen, turn out to be shaky or false. The Owen’s never appear, and a storm isolates the group on the island, cutting them off from the mainland. The guests seem to have little in common, and they squabble with each other and with the servants. Events take a dramatic turn after dinner. A gramophone begins playing a record which accuses each of them of a crime, with each crime having led to a death, to a murder. Three of the crimes for which the strangers are accused are depicted or hinted at through flashbacks, with one particularly impressive scene set on the French battlefield during World War I. This is excellently staged and thought out, offering a striking visual.
In contrast to Christie’s Marple or Poirot stories, there is no detective in this tale. The group is left to fend for themselves, and as time passes on the island, the levels of claustrophobia, panic, and paranoia increase. This growing sense of unease is reflected in the set, which becomes progressively more dishevelled and frayed. Accusations fly and alliances are formed and broken, as the survivors desperately try to find the murderer among them. With a cast of 10 characters and the need to introduce and provide at least a bit of backstory for each one the plot gets off to a slightly slow start. However, as the stakes rise and the cast dwindles, the pace quickens, and the tension escalates, making for an increasingly gripping and suspenseful evening in particular following the interval.
Written in 1939, “And Then There Were None” is the third title under which this novel has been known. Unfortunately, the pervasive racism of that era still surfaces at times, with ugly comments about the value of ‘native’ lives. Some updates have been made for this play with modern relationships and language so it would have been nice to see these issues further addressed.
Three excellent performances stand out; David Yelland, playing the Judge, exudes authority and gravitas, embodying a respected figure accustomed to people following his orders. His take-charge and methodical approach to working through the unfolding events is played very well. Sophie Walter, in the role of Ms. Claythorne, the new secretary to the Owens, nicely moves from flirting to fear and then fightback, growing into her character as the play progresses. Joseph Beattie, as Captain Lombard, delivers a captivating performance with a hint of arrogance, an unapologetic military man who resembles a tightly coiled spring, the tension building with each moment. He infuses physicality into the role, at one point even barking and snapping like a dog. His performance is quite magnetic.
“And Then There Were None” moves along to a terrific climax, both in story and in truly impressive sparking animated and enthusiastic conversations among the audience as we make our way home.
Reviewer: Dave Smith
Reviewed: 31st October 2023
North West End UK Rating: