JOYCE MCMILLAN on AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman, 31.10.15.
3 stars ***
IF EVER ANYONE saw Agatha Christie as a mere entertainer, conjuring up English upper-middle-class life at its most superficially thrilling and ultimately reassuring, then this stirringly effective Joe Harmston touring production for the Agatha Christie Theatre Company should finally set that myth to rest.
Set in a large island house off the coast of Devon, this iconic Christie story brings together a group of eight house-guests – plus butler and housekeeper – who find, to their shock, that the host and hostess who invited them are not there. Instead, they are confronted with a recorded accusation that they are all complicit in various murders; and then with a night of horror, as one by one, members of the group begin to die, picked off in a ruthless and mysterious application of the death penalty.
At one level, this is all delicious spine-chilling hokum; the dramatic style is old-fashioned – despite a gorgeous art deco set by Sam Scullion – and the mechanics of the plot creak a little, as an austere-looking Paul Nicholas, as distinguished judge Sir Lawrence Wargrave, leads the cast through its twists and turns.
There’s something bracingly bold, though, about the ruthlessness with which Christie exposes the pervasive underlying violence of the apparently peaceful British society evoked in stories like her Miss Marple mysteries; and with Kezia Burrows and Ben Nealon acting up a spirited storm as the night’s last two survivors, this is a Hallowe’en thriller that offers some food for thought, as well as its share of hair-raising moments.
King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, final performances today; and His Majesty’s, Aberdeen, Tuesday-Saturday next week.