Being a great fan of the Queen of Murder Mystery, I’ve seen probably close to a dozen different screen and stage adaptations of And Then There Were None, and I’m always impressed by the way the plot builds and tensions ramp up as the story unfolds. Even knowing how it ends or “whodunnit”, such is the skill of Agatha Christie's writing, you can’t fail to be rapt as the atmosphere quickly takes a sinister turn.
However, such is my familiarity with the tale, what interests me most now is the way in which each production is presented to its audience. There’s an argument of course for letting the text do the work, and giving the people what they want – after all, the theatre was full because Christie fans knew exactly what to expect. However, that doesn’t negate a need for creativity, and in this latest adaptation, directed by Lucy Bailey, it was abundant.
The set, for example, was particularly inventive, with a swathe of colour (largely blue of course) enshrouding the action, reminding us throughout of our guests' stranded position on Soldier Island. A translucent curtain remained a permanent feature, sometimes aiding memory sequences as we find out more about the guilt that envelops the characters, and at other times serving to indicate a division between rooms.
The way the last scene plays out was also a great example of theatrical contrivance, which culminates in creating a memorable and rather haunting final tableaux.
While the set was innovative, what it lacked was visual appeal. What I particularly enjoy about period pieces is the sumptuous surroundings, and without the unmistakable charm of a wood-panelled drawing room or a grand fireplace for example, it all felt rather stark. It was also not entirely clear when the action was taking place indoors or outdoors.
The casting in this production has been encouragingly made more inclusive, and balances the favour a little less towards the men, but perhaps doesn't go far enough. Certainly at the outset, when we weren't as familiar with the characters, there seemed to be a sea of middle-aged grey-haired men, and it wasn't easy to distinguish them.
The story, in typical fashion, takes a while to heat up with much of the first half devoted to back-stories and introductions. This means the second half, with fewer characters and more nuanced performances is much more enjoyable.
It is of course a must watch for Agatha Christie fans, and tickets have sold like hotcakes for that reason. Why not snap up one of those last few and transport yourself to this isolated mansion in Devonshire - And Then There Were None continues at Norwich Theatre Royal until 3 Feb.