There has been something a little snobbish about the reaction to And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie’s first appearance on the West End (the ever-long-running The Mousetrap notwithstanding) for quite some time. For all people’s talk that it is ‘just another Agatha Christie’, it is somewhat undermined by this above fact that her work is largely never revived in London and as for the dismissive assertions that it is just perfect for Middle England, I find that a horrendous attitude. There’s room enough for all kinds of theatre in London, and for people to like some or all of those kinds as they see fit: the idea that because something might be popular, it loses any artistic value is a perilous one and shockingly naïve given the economic realities of mounting West End shows.
Now I’ve got that off my chest, this is a new version of this show by Kevin Elyot who, according to my companion, has actually done very little updating or modernising in the end, instead relying on Christie’s intelligently intricate plotting and a very solid cast, to deliver the twists and shocks of this murder mystery set on an island. Opening with ten strangers sat around a dinner table, invited by a mysterious man Mr U N Owen, who are then picked off one by one according to the words of the nursery rhyme from which the title is taken.
But it is no ordinary whodunit as it emerges that these are no ordinary everyday citizens and what is happening here is more about the exacting of justice on those who have avoided it. Thus there’s a double set of revelations as we discover who these people really are, followed up by their demise, and the atmosphere is suitably taut as a drum in the glorious Art Deco decorated set and there’s plenty of shocks and thrills, not least from the ever-present storm, to keep the audience constantly jumping out of their seats.
Everyone in the cast was great: the women edged it for me with Tara Fitzgerald giving good jolly-hockey-sticks as a games teacher and Gemma Jones’ utterly chilling righteous Miss Brent as the standout performances of the night, though Anthony Howell, Sam Crane and Richard Clothier kept up the men’s side well. I don’t want to say too much more as I’ll get dangerously close to giving important things away! Yes, there’s elements of Christie’s work that will always feel familiar due to its ubiquity on our television screens, but it does not take much to realise that there is a greater depth and nuance to her work here that ought to begin to change the mind of the most hardened sceptic.