And Then There were None, Manchester Opera House – Review

Adam Lowe

Recently we were lucky enough to catch And Then There were None, an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s most famous novel, at the Manchester Opera House . Marking the 10th anniversary of the Agatha Christie Theatre Company, which was itself set up to celebrate 125 years since Agatha Christie’s birth, And Then There were None is Christie’s own theatrical adaptation of her own book.

Following recent tours of Witness for the Prosecution and Black Coffee, And Then There were None (which had two different names at different times, both of which were overtly racist) uses the modern name of the book, but still manages to carry most of the original ambience and period detail of the first edition. The book has sold approximately 100 million copies over the years and its popularity endures here.

The nursery rhyme at the heart of the play (here renamed ‘Ten Little Soldier Boys’, which captures the original metre and is far more appropriate) is where the title comes from, and gives us the clues as to who will die next and how. The plot, however, is such that expectations are continually confounded, adding to the suspense and intrigue.

Simon Scullion’s art deco-inspired set is glorious in its simplicity and versatility. The action takes place in one room, and this gives the play a tense, claustrophobic feel. It was the director himself, Joe Harmston, who likened the play’s appeal to modern phenomena like Big Brother and I’m a Celebrity, where small groups of characters are ‘picked off’ one by one (this time by a public vote) as interpersonal relationships unravel.

The play starred BAFTA-nominee Paul Nicholas, Dalziel and Pascoe‘s Colin Buchanan, Susan Penhaligon from Bouquet of Barbed Wire and A Fine Romance, former Blue Peter presenter Mark Curry, Emmerdale stars Verity Rushworth and Frazer Hines, and Ben Nealon from ITV’s award winning Soldier Soldier.

For anyone who doesn’t know the basic premise, it’s simple: 10 strangers meet on a strange island off the coast, where a mysterious host has gathered them for some vigilante justice, based on crimes they all committed in the past.

There is a major red herring that makes figuring out the killer a challenge, and a number of clever twists along the way, until the killer is finally revealed. Though the play traditionally had a more upbeat ending, which differed from that of the novel, the Agatha Christie Theatre Company has here decided to restore the novel’s bleak conclusion – although as the curtain falls, there is still a hint of ambiguity at the end.

The acting is top notch, the direction on point, and the two intervals mean you can drink all you want through the play without having to dash off to the bogs mid-scene (inspired thinking!).

The production feels, at times, quaint – steeped as it is in the ambience of its 1939 setting – without some of the luxurious props and costumes of a BBC period drama to add the richness that might make it more visually arresting, but for the most part it works.

Once the narrative gets going, after the arrival by turns of each character, the play is a rattling thriller that takes you along for a very exciting ride indeed. Where it particularly shines, of course, is in Christie’s script (here cleaned up to make it more palatable for a 21st Century audience and therefore losing its racist threads), which, despite the controversies around its content and original titles, is generally regarded as a masterclass in crime writing.

And Then There were None has currently stopped touring for 2015. Tickets for future productions of And Then There were None can be found at ATG Tickets.