And Then There Were None

‘And Then There Were None’ is a gripping mystery play from the queen of cliff-hangers, Agatha Christie. Published as a book in November 1939 when Agatha was 49 yrs. it became a stage play 4 years later. The main element of the plot is based upon a hundred-year-old children’s counting jingle. It is considered Christie’s ‘magnum opus’ and according to the lady herself, was her most challenging book to write, with the storyline going through a colossal number of revisions. The first version of this unparalleled mystery play had twelve characters, two more than the present version. Christie’s order of dying and the endings vary, so if you saw the recent Rockingham production of this play, then you will enjoy this one too, it is NOT a repeat.

The book made Agatha Christie the best-selling novelist of all time and is published in more than 50 languages. This book alone sold 100 million copies. In 2015, this world’s seventh best-selling book, and in a global vote to mark Agatha Christie’s 125th anniversary ‘And Then There Were None’ was voted the World’s Favourite Christie.

In an early live television production of this play, shortly after being stabbed to ‘death’, an actor who did not realise that he was still on camera, simply stood up and walked off with his hands in his pockets.

Home schooled for her primary years, Christie became an accomplished classical musician and was one of the first English female surfers.

This gripping two-and-a-quarter-hour drama is being presented by the Roxy Lane Theatre Company at their theatre at 55 Ninth Avenue and Roxy Lane, Maylands. The three-week season has curtain up at 7.30 each Friday and Saturday night, with Sunday matinées at 2.00 pm until the 3rd July.

An audience who may never have seen a whodunit or this style of suspense play before will really love it. It is even suitable for ‘thinking’ 12-year-olds, although this version is a little creepy.

It was not long ago that The Roxy Theatre had a few props and a couple of flood lights. Slowly, with a great deal of work from the dedicated committee and members, this 90-seat theatre could soon become one of the most comfortable and best auditoria in Perth’s community theatre. More news in a month.

The Scene:             August 1930. The smart sitting room in a large mansion on Soldier Island, off the coast of Devon.

The Set:                 The designer / builder was Jim Chantry, who always does a great job but this set outshone all his others. The set is a huge and lavish sitting room, with quality furniture including winged oak and moquette armchairs, a matching three-seater sofa, a quality oak, art deco china cabinet with a drinks tray on the top. This cabinet was set into an alcove. The crowning glory was a magnificent, top-of-the-range Victorian walnut grandfather clock with tubular bells.

The décor is oak panelled walls with matching door frames. Often one sees sets with three flat walls, each with a plain sheet of laminated plywood, here Jim – virtually on his own – has fitted picture rails and recesses thus adding real character to the room. The rear wall has a white marble fireplace and on the mantlepiece are the ten little soldiers dressed in regimental scarlet jackets and busbies. A log fire burns in the grate and the large picture frame on the chimney breast contains the tale of the ten little soldiers; also at the rear is a large picture window overlooking the Bristol Channel, with a set of patio doors leading to a terrace. Three doors lead off the loungeroom to the bedrooms, kitchen and cloakroom.

The huge (3 metres by 5 metres) backdrop artwork depicting the balcony and sea scene was by Celeste Lopez. This is possibly the best theatre background artwork that I have seen. It was well lit, often a forgotten area.  

Props:     Linda Conley and Josephine Wayling have added total realism to the set with the perfect props.

Lighting and Sound Designer and operator:     Teale Harrison assisted by Luke Heath was initially fraught trying to handle their new lighting and sound desks, but at the end of the play they had conquered the equipment. The sound effects of the weather, the boat and the storm were well above average. Well done.

Stage manager:                   Hannah Portwine and Emma Stirling did a superb job. At one or two of the major changes don’t be shy to allot tasks to the actors, as in a suspense play the breaks need to be as short as possible to retain the tension.

Front-of-house managers were efficient Don Weaver and Kirsten-Halford-Bailey. Kirsten was also responsible for the intriguing poster and the smart programme with good photographs.

        The play opens as the nervous butler, Thomas Rogers (Chris Harris) and his henpecked and overworked wife, the cook / housekeeper Ethel (Sharon Thomas) are awaiting the food supplies for a private gathering at Soldier Island’s only building, a large private mansion overlooking the Bristol Channel. The staff were hired only a week earlier by Mr and Mrs Owen, to clean, cook and look after their eight guests.

       As there is no ferry to the island, so a local fisherman Fred Narracott (Tarek Jabado) conveys the guests and groceries to the house. Today, on his first crossing he has brought a sports mistress from a girls’ school, Vera Claythorne, (Jackie Oates) and a couple of men. The first is a flirtatious soldier of fortune, Philip Lombard (Micky Moroz) a mercenary military officer who has just returned from Africa; he is accompanied by the irresponsible, Anthony Marston (Sean Traynor) an amoral young student, who is totally lacking in conscience.

       On his second crossing, Fred ferries a mysterious South African former police inspector, now a private investigator William Blore (Greg Hopson) to whom lies come easily. Then there is the retired World War I hero, senile General Mackenzie (Martin Bowen) who cannot accept that his wife has been dead for decades. Smartly dressed in tweeds is a prudish religious zealot, the Bible quoting, Emily Brent (Catherine Jane) an elderly authoritarian sat knitting like Madame Defarge. The last two guests to arrive are a pedantic retired judge, Sir Lawrence Wargrave (Tim Riessen) and a Harley Street medic of dubious ability, Dr. Armstrong (Sandhya Krishnan).

      Rogers announces that their hosts have been delayed and will not be arriving until the following day, but that the guests should all make themselves at home in the meanwhile. However, when a cryptic recording by Mr Owen is played to the gathering, it seems that they all have sordid pasts and because of that, each one may well die over the next 24 hours.

The costumes were perfectly chosen by wardrobe mistress Josephine Wayling, to indicate to the audience not only the 1930s but give an immediate knowledge of the personality of the character wearing the clothes.

The play has been powerfully directed by Dutch academic and part-time professional performer, Robrecht Herfkens who last year showed his talent as a comedian in ‘The Odd Couple’ and again in one of Noel O’Neil’s madcap plays.

It is easy for a director who has ten actors on stage for almost the whole play, to stand them in a semicircle flapping their arms like a flock of penguins. Rob kept his cast moving around, swapping seats, pouring drinks and by doing so, slowly built up the tension in the room. The guests have perfect, upper-class plum-in-the-mouth posh English accents. Rob has ensured that the cast knew their characters perfectly. The teamwork and chemistry of the cast were exceptional, with plenty of tension, aggression and panic.

Catherine Jane studied as an actor but due to children has been out of the scene for several years. Now she has returned with vengeance as the domineering, prejudiced prude, Miss Brent. Another fabulous performance was Jackie Oates as the distraught Vera who reaches her breaking point. Could these two ladies and the set design find themselves in the Finley Awards nominations?

I went expecting more of the same, but the director has given us much more aggravation between the characters than usual. A fine production, even if you think that you know the story this will surprise you. Highly recommended.