Review: EUTCo’s “And Then There Were None.”

Senior Editor, Emma Bessent, evaluates Exeter University Theatre Company's highly anticipated production of Agatha Christie's 'And Then There Were None.'

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There is something deeply chilling about a performance which starts with more actors than the tiny stage can comfortably accommodate and ends with one single dead body sprawled out as part of the scenery; an adamant, apathetic reminder of the story which you have just watched unfold. And Then There Were None is, beyond doubt, Agatha Christie’s most chilling and complex work. It is also a disheartening time capsule in terms of gender, race and class relations – a fact best exemplified by the novel’s original title of Ten Little N*****s, and captured in the adapted script with some awareness of modern audiences’ discomfort with these highly outdated and now deeply offensive sentiments.

The moment that you were confident you had solved the mystery, the culprit you seized upon was quietly axed in the back or euthanised with a hypodermic needle.

EUTCo’s cast toyed with the more prejudiced elements of the script, consciously converting outrageous statements into subtle moments of comic relief. Their restraint against the latent temptation in any costume drama to ham things up showed excellent professionalism, creating an aura of naturalism which added to the suspense and power of the story. Very few elements of the performance detracted from this artistic direction, and these flaws were minor enough that they hardly mattered. Vera Claythorne’s screams of horror were used a few times too many, and would have better preserved their spine-chilling quality had they been less frequently deployed in the play’s second half. Similarly, Mrs. Ethel Rodger’s homely fussing over the set became uncomfortable to watch as she continuously moved objects without ever actually removing dirty glassware; a tiny detail, but nonetheless frustrating against a backdrop of otherwise convincing and well-sustained naturalism.

These minor moments aside, the play was cast with excellent insight, making the most of ten very talented performers’ abilities. Emily Lafoy’s Miss Emily Brent and James Stevenson’s Mr Lawrence Wargrave were particularly excellent, but scenes played in ensemble demonstrated the incredible balance of talent and hard work across the cast with particular vivacity; there was not one slip in character nor a single line faltered over. As one character delivered their dialogue, the others would be rocking and talking to themselves (Mrs. Jane MacKenzie), shaking with fear (Dr. Edward Armstrong), or quietly administering death to those they shared the stage with (I won’t spoil this one!) This latter action, alongside the sequential knocking down of the little soldier boys which presided over the whole performance, was artfully done; just apparent enough to be noticed by those with a very keen eye or who knew the solution to Christie’s conundrum, but deft enough that not one audience member felt a fool for missing the signs. There was no suspension of belief necessary on the viewers’ part, as the elegance of this particular performer made it very plausible that even the characters stood right next to them would miss the signs.

There was a definite absence of dramatic irony as the audience was carefully kept on the exact same foot as the characters themselves, constantly referring to “Ten Little Soldier Boys” in the hope that they could decipher who would be the next to go, and how they would be dispatched. The moment that you were confident you had solved the mystery, the culprit you seized upon was quietly axed in the back or euthanised with a hypodermic needle. Anna Lovering and Lydia Sax, the directorial team behind the production, have done an excellent job with a difficult plot and complex script, supported by an all-star cast and creative team. The only major detraction from the performance was the M&D Room’s poor quality stage, and I would very much like to see such an intelligently put together piece of theatre given the physical space which goes some way to matching the impressive professionalism of the cast and creatives involved. A Clockwork Orange, EUTCo’s big budget show for this academic year, has an awful lot to live up to.

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