August 1939. Dark clouds are gathering over Europe.
And off the coast of South Devon, a remote island becomes the setting for a series of sinister killings.
‘And Then There Were None’ has provided the model for innumerable ‘locked room’ mysteries. It’s also one of Christie’s very few works where there is no ingenious detective – no Poirot or Miss Marple – to solve the case. Just a group of extraordinary characters marooned together on an island, where one of them is deranged killer. But which one?
In some ways, it’s the purest mystery Christie ever wrote. Ten strangers are invited to Soldier Island, but on arrival, their hosts, Mr and Mrs U.N. Owen are strangely absent.
As the evening unfolds, the fragile atmosphere of forced good humour is broken by the sudden accusation that they are all guilty of murder.
Then one by one, members of the party begin to die, the manner of their killing linked to a seemingly innocent nursery rhyme.
Fear, suspicion and paranoia take hold of the remaining survivors as they realise the killer must be one of them.
Christie, who wrote the stage adaptation herself, provided a more upbeat ending than her novel. But a 2015 adaptation followed the novel more closely . Which have we used? You’ll have to find out…
By Sanjana Idnani for Inside Croydon
There was something odd about sitting among a sold-out auditorium at the Coulsdon Community Centre to see And Then There Were None, given the difficulties the Theatre Workshop Coulsdon had faced over the past year.
In March 2020, TWC was ready to perform the Agatha Christie classic to mark the beginning of the company’s 50th anniversary celebrations. But as the Covid-19 crisis took hold, performances were delayed indefinitely. The cast started weekly Zoom rehearsals, to be ready to resume when they could.
But there were more obstacles to come. More lockdowns led to further postponement of the show, while up the road at Croydon Town Hall, the council was mired in its financial crisis. By February this year, that financial collapse was being felt closer to TWC’s Coulsdon home, with their performance venue, the Community Centre, among those council-owned properties being put up for sale to save the borough’s crumbling finances.
The 1930s-built community centre is a financially successful social enterprise and registered charity, which returns a healthy annual surplus that is reinvested in the facilities for the benefit of its users and the wider community. It has been home for the past 50 years to Theatre Workshop Coulsdon, as well as providing a place of worship for three churches, plus a pre-school which in more normal times operates on five days a week for a large number of local children.
In normal times, the centre functions as Coulsdon’s village hall. It is a vibrant centre which plays host to around 30 local groups, with approximately 60,000 individual user visits each year, as well as providing 3,500 separate classes, meetings, events, parties and performances per annum.
The fight to save Coulsdon Community Centre is ongoing. But while no one appears to be to blame for the council’s financial collapse, the company at Theatre Workshop Coulsdon rolled up their sleeves to stage a compelling whodunnit.
As my dad and I entered the community centre on Thursday night, the sense of hope and accomplishment was clear. As we settled down in our seats, we were eased back into the 1930s with some gramophone music typical of the period.
Agatha Christie’s almost impossible-to-solve mystery really was the most fitting way for TWC to kick off their 2021 season.
The story is a well-known masterpiece: a group of people guilty of past crimes are summoned to a strange and secluded island house. One by one, they drop like flies, but no one knows who is responsible for this grotesque enforcement of justice.
The novel was adapted by Christie in 1943 into a play, when she gave it a more optimistic ending. In 2015, a new edition of the play offered directors the choice of three endings: the original novel ending, Christie’s play ending, or a new ending. You’ll have to go along yourself to find out which end TWC’s director, Lucy-Ann Bird, opted for.
The play starts with the housekeepers, Mr and Mrs Rogers – played by Bruce Montgomery and Rosie Martin – preparing the house for the arrival of the eight ill-fated guests.
Montgomery and Martin are confident in their roles, with the efficiency and conscientious you might expect of housekeepers, while using subtly nervous gestures to create the impression that something isn’t quite right in this strange house.
Next to enter is the secretary, Vera Claythorne, and Captain Philip Lombard. Joe Wilson does a fine job as the rakish and flirtatious Lombard.
Indianna Scorziello provided a stand-out performance as Claythorne, perfectly balancing Vera’s youthful hope and diligence, her womanly care and concern, and her resourcefulness. I won’t give away what happens (as if…), but Scorziello’s final scene took my breath away.
Another powerful performance came from Richard Lloyd, who mastered the complex personality of his character, Sir Lawrence Wargrave. Lloyd nicely uses a slow, controlled pace and firm and grounded body language to establish Sir Lawrence as a trustworthy man of justice. As the play develops, Wargrave’s detached calm becomes more unsettling, sharply contrasting the heightening panic felt by the other characters.
Rachel Handler, Paul Ford and Rosa Ruggeri, who play Antonia Marston, William Blore, and Emily Brent respectively, portray their eccentric characters well and add idiosyncratic moments of comedy to the piece.
Chris Argles was touchingly reflective in his performance of General Mackenzie, and Mike Brown nailed his portrayal of the erratically nerved nerve specialist, Dr Armstrong.
The production overall was remarkably well-polished, especially considering how disrupted the rehearsal process was.
The cohesion of the larger scenes was also noteworthy, given that until July 19, only six cast members could be together at one time to rehearse.
The set design was exceptional. Most impressive was the backdrop of the sea and sky behind the room’s glass doors, lit according to the time of day, making the show really immersive.
The production was entertaining, suspenseful, and gripping. While And Then There Were None isn’t suitable for a PG audience, I would encourage younger adults to see the show. I was certainly one of the younger faces in the audience on Thursday night, but this is a great piece for mystery-loving adults of all ages.
At the end of the performance, my dad and I were, once again, in the hands of TWC’s friendly front of house staff who were beaming after another successful performance. Keen to get the next show up and running before the imposition of any more Covid lockdowns, one usher tried to recruit me for their next show (which, with risk of any plot-spoilers, I am able to reveal will be Jason and the Argonauts).
Perhaps next show, I’ll switch roles and be the joyful performer rather than the intimidating critic…