By Agatha Christie
Directed by Joe Harmston
Agatha Christie Theatre Company
Monday 17th November 2008
This was very good fun. We’d seen the production by the same company in London back in 2005 and enjoyed it then, but this was completely recast (and a touring version, so that the set was less elaborate) and it was still an excellent performance. We were particularly interested to see it so that we could look out for the actual murders; several take place on stage, and in full view of the audience, but as Agatha Christie is a master of misdirection, the audience rarely spots them. We did our best and saw a few, but I still missed a number of the killings.
The opening scene was quite light hearted, with all the cast doing their best to make it seem like a 1930s comedy rather than a whodunit. I found one chap, Alex Ferns, difficult to make out as his speech seemed slurred most of the time, but overall the dialogue was easy to hear. The set was pretty good with a huge round window centre back, a fireplace to our left with the poem and the ten little soldiers, and a few chairs about the place. The costumes were also 1930s style, and the whole piece worked very well in that context.
The first death put a bit of a blight on the occasion and then as each extra body was added to the toll, the tension began to rise. One scene was played in total or near darkness as the generator had run down and they had to use candles. It helped with the atmosphere as well as the plot, and the way the story had been slightly altered to keep all of the action in the one room was very good. The London production had introduced a few extra locations but this one stayed put, and I understand from the program notes that this was Christie’s own version of the play. She certainly knew how to keep people guessing.
Of course we knew who the guilty party was from the off, and I did my best to keep an eye on that person throughout, while still enjoying the whole performance. Even knowing who the murderer was, I still felt the pressure mounting at the end, when there are only two people left on the island and it’s clear that one of them has done all the murders. It’s the sign of a good writer, and Agatha Christie’s skill in this area has often been underrated. A good cast helps to get the most out of the characters as well, and tonight’s ensemble did a very good job. The soldiers weren’t disappearing quite as consistently as they did in London, but with the smaller set that might have been difficult to arrange so they tended to go during the scene changes. Not a problem, as the tension comes in other ways, too.
I was very aware of the play’s structure. The opening scene has a series of guests arriving at this island retreat and being introduced to one another, so we get to hear the names a number of times. Excellent. With such a large group of characters, and with a name change due very soon after the start, it’s important to register their names with us, and that’s what we get. Then, as the murders progress, we no sooner hear a guest’s own story, or confession, than they’re bumped off, which helped to balance the concerns I certainly felt about such one-sided retribution. After all, these people haven’t had a chance to speak in their own defence so some of them might be innocent. But there are enough confessions, and enough assertions of innocence supported by details that clearly show the opposite, that we can relax a little with the possibility that none of these people is being killed unjustly. (I think the book makes the guilt of each murderee quite explicit in its closing explanation.)
So this was a very good night out, and I would even like to see it again, to pick up on the murders I missed.
© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me