The history of this Agatha Christie mystery story, ranked by many to be amongst her best, is a fascinating one. It was first published in the United Kingdom by the Collins Crime Club on 6 November 1939 after the British blackface song, which serves as a pivotal plot point. The U.S. edition was not released until December 1939 with the title changed to the last five words in the original American version of the nursery rhyme: And Then There Were None. It is Christie’s best-selling novel with over 100 million copies sold, also making it the world’s best-selling mystery, and one of the best-selling books of all time. Playing to wartime houses the end was changed to be less dark in those troubled times. Director Joe Harmston has restored the original ending as written in the novel, in keeping with the traditional approach which is a hallmark of this Bill Kenwright production, whose credentials are gold plated.
The plotting, and scenario, have been reprised by many subsequent authors. Ten people are brought on to an island under different pretexts from which there is no immediate prospect of escape. One by one , all ten die. Of course nothing is as it seems as the story twists and turns leaving the audience down blind alleys and whiffing red herrings before its memorable denouement.
Those who enjoy the television series Downton Abbey will enjoy this. The story is wordy, the acting restrained, the manners of the age adding to the dramatic tension, masterfully deployed by director Joe Harmston, whose production, costume and single Art Deco set, the latter the work of Simon Scullion, is faithful to Christie, and the era, 1939. Inevitably the first act labours a little under the demands of setting the scene before the explosive second act and third acts, which allow for two intervals. Special mention should be made of Matthew Bugg’s atmospheric sound which greatly adds to the ambience and drama of the evening,
Ben Nealon, entertains as the carefree, womanising Captain Lombard. Paul Nicholas as judge Sir Lawrence Wargrave, coasts along, stepping up a gear just when required. Deborah Grant revels in her role as the acid tongued and occasionally malevolent Emily Brent, Kezia Burrows sashays and shimmies as a secretary with a stunning, revealing, backless evening gown, but with a secret of her own to hide. However Mark Wynter, sixties popstar with “Venus in Blue Jeans”, “It’s Almost Tomorrow” and “Go Away little Girl” to his credit, stood out for me as the mysterious Doctor Armstrong, sinister and compelling.
The Agatha Christie Theatre Company do an invaluable job both in keeping such fine writing alive, and making it accessible to audiences over seventy five years later. A full house lapped it all up, and there were gasps as the murderous mastermind was revealed. Christie is the doyenne of murder mystery and this production does that tradition proud, running until Saturday 14th November.
This review first appeared in Behind the Arras, abridged, where a comprehensive collection of reviews from the best of Midlands theatre, from a range of reviewers, is available.