Quality writing keeps audience enthralled

And Then There Were None, Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne, March 10

If asked the question “who was probably the best known crime writer?” it is fairly certain that Agatha Christie would top the list of answers.

This year marks the 125th anniversary of the birth of Agatha on September 15, 1890, and also the 10th anniversary of the formation of the Agatha Christie Theatre Company, which is exclusively licensed by the Christie Estate to Bill Kenwright to tour the original stage plays.

With such a pedigree a first class production is ensured and this was the case with And Then There None, which came to the Devonshire Park Theatre this week as part of a 19 week UK tour.

Ten guests, all strangers to each other, are invited to a remote hotel on a secluded island off the coast of Devon by unknown hosts who fail to turn up to greet them on their arrival.

While they are trying to get to know each other a record is played accusing each one of them of some dastardly deed they have carried out and, systematically, they are disposed of, one by one, their deaths seemingly following the lines of a children’s rhyme, ‘Ten Little Soldier Boys’, which is framed above the fireplace.

The original title had to be changed for political correctness.

On the mantelpiece stand the figurines of ten soldiers and as each victim is sent to their maker the numbers go down until there is one left.

The story is now so well known that the finale does not spring the surprise and twist that it did when it was first produced. However, the way the story unfolds and the quality of the writing still keeps the audience enthralled and on the edge of their seats until the very end.

As ever with a Kenwright production everything is done to perfection.

He has gathered together a cast of very experienced actors with the addition of a couple of younger, but no less capable ones, to give credibility to what is, after all, an incredible story.

Paul Nicholas, and Susan Penhaligon, both aging gracefully, give the high level of performance we have come to expect from them over the years and they are superbly backed up by Colin Buchanan, Mark Curry, Frazer Hines, Ben Nealon, Eric Carte and Judith Rae.

Of the two youngsters Verity Rushworth, as secretary to the non-appearing owners of the island, gives a spirited performance and more than holds her own with her more experienced co-actors.

Paul Hassall is the first guest to be “picked off” so does not get a great deal of opportunity to shine.

The set design is superb, as are the costumes and the lighting, and Joe Harmston’s meticulous direction makes this a production that is really worth going out to see, even on a cold March evening.