Review: And Then There Were None (Theatre Royal Glasgow)
Adaptation that proves murder mysteries are in need of new blood
There has been a resurgence in the popularity of classically styled murder mysteries of late. Netflix’s big Christmas movie last year was the Knives Out sequel Glass Onion, which showed how the classic formula could be as fun, lively and relevant today as it was in the days of Agatha Christie. That resurgence hasn’t quite reached theatre yet, but that won’t stop eager audiences who are already well-familiar with the twists and turns of And Then There Were None from coming to lap up a new production of Christie’s classic, directed by Lucy Bailey.
Set in interwar England, 10 guests who have never met each other are invited to a mysterious island, only to realise that they are being picked off one by one by someone in their midst. A compelling premise it may be, but it comes with some built-in challenges. As with any murder mystery, the characters must be thoroughly established, the murders must be conceivable but not obvious, and the staging has to avoid becoming a bunch of people sitting around and talking punctuated by off-stage killings. Bailey’s production excels at the first of these, falters at the second, and fails at the third. Each character quickly feels distinct, thanks to some strong performances and subtle but palpable class and generational tensions. But aside from some creative flashback scenes, the direction is dreadfully stiff. Even though you know what each character is about, you aren't given much reason to care about them.
Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan
Luckily this was a forgiving audience, since moments before the performance began we learnt that there had been a last-minute casting change and that Vera Claythorne would now be played by Nicola May-Taylor, reading from a script and having never rehearsed in the role. May-Taylor admirably holds her own during the performance, and a couple of missed beats are more than made up for by the pleasure of witnessing an actor working on their feet in an unpredictable situation. Others in the cast have less excuse, particularly David Yelland as Judge Wargrave, who flubs just enough lines for it to become noticeable. Most distractingly, as the performance is coming to a close and the translucent curtains are being drawn across the stage, Yelland has to scooch in his chair to get out of their way. There are strong performances, particularly Katy Stephens’ Lady-Bracknell-Esque performance as Emily Brent. The trouble is that an adaptation without a unique vision for the source material (the setting and the characters are loyal to the novel) ought to be so polished we don’t care, and so even minor mistakes end up doing a lot of damage.
Sometimes you’ve got to ask who a show is aimed at and how it serves them. Looking around the audience it isn’t a stretch to assume most of them have seen some version of this story before and know where it is going, and for them, this is a perfectly adequate adaptation. But as someone who got to enjoy the gripping novel for the first time as a teenager, I cannot help but feel sorry for the audiences for whom this is their first encounter with Agatha Christie’s masterpiece. For them, classic murder mysteries will seem as tired and unapproachable as ever. Three stars.
Whispers from the Crowd: "I loved it, the staging was cleverly done. We've seen all the films and liked this one a lot."
And Then There Were None has completed its run at Theatre Royal Glasgow. To see their tour dates please visit: www.andthentherewerenoneplay.com/