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Nine out of ten for classic whodunit

PUBLISHED: 17:34 21 May 2008 | UPDATED: 17:28 16 August 2010

Bill Kenwright production of
AND THEN THERE WERE NONE
by Agatha Christie
directed by Joe Harmston

Bill Kenwright production of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE by Agatha Christie directed by Joe Harmston

It s no good doing an Agatha Christie play unless you re going to take it deadly seriously, writes Mark Campbell. And, thankfully,

It's no good doing an Agatha Christie play unless you're going to take it deadly seriously, writes Mark Campbell.

And, thankfully, the Churchill's recent production of And Then There Were None largely succeeded in this - apart from a couple of exceptions that I'll touch upon shortly.

Set in a lonely hotel on an island off the Devon coast, this quintessential Christie whodunit sees a group of 10 disparate individuals, all linked by unproven murder allegations, bumped off one by one to the theme of the children's rhyme, 'Ten Little Soldier Boys'.

First published as the novel Ten Little Niggers in 1939, Christie's play version was later changed to the less offensive Ten Little Indians before settling on the rather more cumbersome title And Then There Were None.

Without giving too much away, this touring version also restores the novel's bleaker ending.

Denis Lill and Mark Wynter were the evening's strongest male performers, polar opposites in terms of characterisation but both equally engaging.

Peter Byrne was good as the gaga old general, while former Adam Adamant Lives! star Gerald Harper, although now showing his age, was perfectly cast as the 'hanging judge' who takes natural command of the situation.

Notably it was the two youngest actors, Alex Ferns and Bob Saul, who seemed less comfortable with the deliberately arch dialogue.

The latter was an unfunny caricature, while the former's ridiculously stilted performance (like a puppet with its joints nailed together) was just embarrassing.

Chloe Newsome, however, was excellent as the sparky ingénue, with Jennifer Wilson equally delightful as the tough-as-nails elderly spin ster.

But forget the actors, director Joe Harmston made the hotel lobby the real star of the show.

Exquisitely designed by Simon Scullion, a vast Art Deco porthole window dominated the stage, with its gradually closing shutters mirroring the play's increasingly claustrophobic storyline.

(That the interior of the building did not match its exterior was perhaps best overlooked for the sake of artistic licence.)

Tension was further escalated by Mark Howett's subliminal lighting and Ian Horrocks-Taylor's moody sound effects.

Technically, this was a first-class production of a classic whodunit.

* The next production at the Churchill Theatre is West Wickham Operatic Society's Annie Warbucks from 28-31 May. Tickets: 020 8462 5824.

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