Agatha Christie called And Then There Were None the most difficult to write book of her career, but staging her play comes with challenges of its own. Lucy Bailey (director of the site-specific Witness for the Prosecution at County Hall in London) rises to the challenge with an impressively stylish, vivid production.
Surprisingly haunting, visual and immediate
Eight people arrive on a secluded island off the coast of Devon, cut off from the rest of the world, with a killer hidden among them. The isolated sense of place, crucial to the drama, is animated by Mike Britton’s evocative but subtle semi-expressionist set, incorporating island landscape textures into the walls and floor of the interior. Lighting designer Chris Davey suggests black seaside nights, cosy warm lamps, and a memorable pastel sunset. The result is an eerie sense that the natural forces of the weather, cliffs and water are at work inside the house. However, the ambitiously modern, moody lighting occasionally left actors obscured in unlit patches. As the inner lives of the characters begin to unfurl, the space mutates beyond the confines of naturalism, without distracting from the drama.
All of the characters are portrayed with special detail and vividness. Standout performances in the diverse and talented ensemble cast include RSC veteran Jeffery Kissoon as General MacKenzie, whose song-like voice and imaginative power make the character’s final speech so much more enthralling and memorable. Nicola May-Taylor’s performance as Jane Pinchbeck is excellent, but Lucy Tregear’s moments of intimacy with her (as Georgina Rogers) lacks some of the chemistry that their relationship deserves. David Yelland sparks with confidence and conviction, Andrew Lancel with comic charm, but it’s Katy Stephens who steals the spotlight in her scenes, breathing creative life into the role of the stern fundamentalist sexagenarian Emily Brent.
Thoughtful costume design by Mike Britton does a great job of differentiating each of them and also subtly reveals things about their characters. They achieve the delicate balance of suggesting the historical setting, without standing out as old-fashioned against the decidedly modern aesthetic.
Elizabeth Purnell’s sound design effectively conveys the mood brilliantly in some scenes, but falls a bit flat in others: it feels as if we can hear the seagulls outside the house too clearly, and the low-quality gunshot sound effect leaves something to be desired. However, it’s in the small moments of stage magic trickery that the production shines, always two steps ahead of us, as the killer is two steps ahead of their victims.
More than just a flawlessly-paced, witty staging of a classic hit, this production is a surprisingly haunting, visual and immediate staging of Christie’s most timeless murder mystery.