The Theatreguide.London Review
Then There Were None
Gielgud Theatre Winter 2005-2006
Agatha Christie's whodunit is the very epitome of the English Country House mystery, superior as a puzzle to The Mousetrap (For one thing, there are a lot more bodies). Whether it is significantly superior as a play, particularly in this lacklustre production, is another question.
Originally a novel, then a play by Christie, now in a new version adapted by Kevin Elyot, it has also been known at various times in its history as Ten Little Indians and an even more politically incorrect title.
Ten people are lured to an isolated house and then accused by a recording of unpunished crimes - the drunken hit-and-run driver, the corrupt cop, the governess who deliberately let a child die, and so on. As they begin dying off, in ways that reflect a childhood rhyme, it becomes clear that the murderer is One Of Us, and the challenge for them and us is to guess who.
Without giving anything away, I'll assure you that, with a typical Christie twist, the solution is one you almost certainly won't be able to guess.
A confession: the Christie version was the first grown-up play I acted in at school (I was the perjuring cop), so I came in with the disadvantage of knowing who the murderer was. So I have to gauge the play's effectiveness in part by the reactions of those around me, and it may be significant that I heard a lot less guessing during the interval than you get at The Mousetrap.
The combination of Kevin Elyot's uninspired adaptation (Except for a key point where he returns to the novel rather than the play, he just speeds things up, losing a lot of atmosphere in the process), Steven Pimlott's plodding direction, an Art Deco set by Mark Thompson that seems both wrong for the mood of the play and unnecessarily elaborate, and some rather poor performances all keep the thing from grabbing you as it wants to.
of the performers get it exactly right. Gemma Jones makes the prudish
spinster nicely eerie, Anthony Howell captures the amoral
adventurer's insouciance, and John Ramm is engaging as the
increasingly tipsy butler.
But the rest range from embarrassingly over-the-top (Sam Crane's playboy) to wooden (Richard Johnson's hanging judge) - and much of the blame for that must fall on director Pimlott for not finding a unifying style and tone.
It would be nice if the tourists who flock to The Mousetrap found this play and enjoyed it, and it might make a good choice for families during the coming holiday season. But I'm afraid most of its virtues lie in Christie's original and devilish puzzle rather than in the way it has been brought to the stage.
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