JOYCE MCMILLAN on AND THEN THERE WERE NONE at Dundee Rep for The Scotsman, 10.3.14.
3 stars ***
IT’S A GORGEOUS-LOOKING creature, this new Dundee Rep production of Agatha Christie’s 1939 thriller, And Then There Were None. Directed and designed by Kenny Miller – who learned his trade at the Citizens’ in the great days of Philip Prowse – the production takes the story’s dramatic setting, in a grand modern house on a tiny island off the south coast of England, and styles it up into a glittering glass-and-steel set full of black sofas, and long windows with filmed view of waves dashing against rocks.
The set is dominated by a bar with a gleaming glass gantry; on its canopy sits the skeleton of a triceratops, a memento mori of past species that have suddenly found themselves out of time. And in this fabulous setting the cast come and go, the men in suits, the servants in black, and the lady guests – femme fatale Vera Claythorne, and old biddy Emily Brent – in the most remarkable – even papal – shoes, topped in Vera’s case by a gorgeous red beaded dress.
What it’s all for, though, remains less than clear, in a production that sometimes reaches towards a new and radical interpretation of Christie’s dark story of unpunished crime and crazed vengeance, but that never quite find a performance style that hits the mark. The plot of this most famous Christie story famously revolves around a weekend house party that shades into nightmare, as death stalks the guests claiming one life after another; the sense of an outwardly assured middle-class civilisation built on a foundation of violence and concealed crime can, at times, be both disturbing and thrilling.
Yet despite the show’s exciting potential, Miller’s bright, ten-strong Dundee Rep company often seem unsure whether they’re being asked to honour and reimagine Christie’s disturbing vision, or simply to camp it up for a bit of winter fun. Among the ten-strong cast, Emily Winter has the right edge of crazed seriousness as the ambitious Vera, and Irene Macdougall is magnificent as the grim-faced housekeeper, Rogers. Elsewhere, though, the company seem unable to resist the temptation to play the old-fashioned dialogue for laughs; and by the time the play reaches its chilling conclusion – culled from the book itself, rather than Christie’s slightly softer dramatic ending – it’s hard to feel satisfied by a show that’s full of dark style and elegance, but that seems much less certain of its ground, when it comes to the purpose and rhythm of the drama itself.