first night

And Then There Were None

Felix Stevenson tries to work out whodunit.

What with the play being written by the ‘queen of crime’ herself, And Then There Were None had all the hallmarks of a good old-fashioned ‘whodunit’. Agatha Christie became famous for using that very familiar formula to create an intriguing murder mystery. This was no exception. The ingredients were there: a hotel on a ridiculously inaccessible island, eight dreadfully caricatured guests, not a phone in sight, and murders. Lots of murders. The only thing missing seemed to be a game of cards – but had the production been such a game, and Zenia Selby (director) the player, it could be remarked that a solid, safe even, hand had been played in choosing this play. It was a decision that saved the production, but only just.

On entering the Assembly Rooms the audience were treated to a stunning mural of the sea, which provided the backdrop to a large room where all of the action in the hotel took place. The sound of the waves crashing against the Devon shoreline was atmospheric – if a little problematic, once the first scene got underway. This was largely due to the inability of many of the actors to be heard, at least initially, when delivering their lines. This was particularly true of Captain Philip Lombard (Maurice Samely) who, despite recovering to put in an assured performance, started in a nervy fashion that was patent in the manner that he slid and shuffled his way around the stage.
Having said that, my initial fears were swept to one side with the bumbling Mrs. Rogers (Ellie Gauge), whose performance as the house lady, which evoked memories of Mrs Patmore in Downton Abbey, admirably provided the needed energy to what had been a fairly underwhelming start.  Within ten minutes of the opening scene, all ten members of the cast had not only been introduced to the audience but also to each other, as the guests gathered together and acquainted themselves with one another. The production’s producers (Matilda Hunter and Lauren Hitohman) deserve huge credit for the sourcing of some fabulously suitable costumes, which were paraded, almost like a high brow fashion show, as the guests appeared, one after another, through the front doors of the hotel.
While the costumes were a delight, the same unfortunately cannot be said for the set, which seemed to be the cause for many of the problems in the production. With only a sofa, chair, and a table holding several tumblers of sherry, the set was extremely bare.  With space for only two actors on the sofa, and one on the chair – which was often blocked from the audience’s view – the remainder of the cast tried to console themselves in the various corners of the stage, which unimaginatively usually resulted in hands being thrust into pockets or nails being examined. There were exceptions to this, most notably Anthony Marston (Hugh Train) who provided welcome comic relief throughout. When this got too much for the actors to bear they would each in turn head for a drink of sherry -which thus started what seemed to be a drinking binge. The amount of ‘alcohol’ that seemed to be subtly consumed, as the actors desperately tried to keep occupied, was so vast that when the first murder occurred I desperately wanted to tell the doctor (Ryan Murphy) to stop checking the victim’s throat and instead turn his attention to the poor victim’s liver.
As the murders got under way, so too did the production, and seemingly the acting, with Fleur Manning showcasing the most realised character in Miss Emily Brent, and Ellis-Anne Dumall putting in a stand-out performance as Miss Vera Claythorne. Yet, while not divulging too many of the details – for fear of spoiling the plot – there was an air of disappointment as we sped through numerous grizzly murders. Too often it felt the production had got so caught up in telling the story’s narrative, it had over-looked the art of how to tell it.  Greater use of dramatic pauses, lighting and sound could have been utilized to draw out the suspense.
Having said that, the story itself almost makes up for this neglect as it promises to engross the audience, encouraging you to play the detective and speculate who might be the murderer, whilst offering a twisting finale that promises to leave you feeling confounded as you scratch your head in surprise. Back at the card table, Zenia Selby’s ‘safe’ hand was ultimately the strong narrative, and by sticking to it, she knew she might be playing her redeeming ace in the pack.
Felix Stevenson

23 November 2012

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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