Review: 'And Then There Were None'
Review by Paige Meintzer
As a long term Agatha Christie and And Then There Were None fan, having read the novel and viewed the BBC mini-series multiple times in their turn, I was thrilled to learn of the Mermaids production. And was wildly determined… in spite of messing up the date of my press pass and thus thinking for a hot second that I wouldn’t have a ticket, to see it.
What was wonderful about The Mermaids production was the director’s acknowledgement in the program of making no effort to alter the audience’s expectations in terms of the story’s presentation. Though on first reading such a statement I was a bit shocked and affronted by her openly admitting a lack of originality, it took me only a moment to come to the conclusion for myself that Agatha Christie isn’t really something you alter. The crime on which the novel is based is, though perhaps a bit fantastic in some regards, is something more plausible for the mid-twentieth century British environment in which it is based than anywhere else.
The play follows a thrilling whodunit mystery, after ten people from vastly different walks of life are invited to a remote island off the English coast of Devon under a variety of false pretenses. Above the mantel, and in the audience’s full view, is the nursery rhyme, “Ten Little Soldiers”, under which rest ten little soldier figurines. Immediately noticed by Vera (Eleanor Burke) upon arrival, the rhyme serves as the basis of the play’s crime as characters begin dying in accordance with the narrative it presents. At first it appears as mere coincidence when Anthony Marsden (Coggin Galbreath) chokes on his liquor. However, as it becomes increasingly obvious that the murderer must be among them, performing the murders in a sick fulfillment of the rhyme’s prophecy, the once open setting of the grows increasingly claustrophobic to the audience’s perception.
Burke, playing one of the most complex characters and also the longest victim to survive, thus having the most stage time, gave a remarkably convincing yet also harrowing performance of Vera Claythorne. Though the audience will ultimately discover her innocence in accordance with the orchestrated murders, she has you believing in her as potential suspect throughout, yet also seeming entirely human in her ultimate fear-fueled decision to kill Lombard (Morgan Corby) and the extreme guilt that absorbs her after, as she is doubled over on her knees before the audience. She impeccably executes the image Judge Wargrave (Olli Gilford) associates with her of, “young, lovely and quite, quite mad”.
However, though a notably dramatic and at times thoroughly distressing play, director, Rowan Wishart, is careful to include brief moments of comic relief to keep the audience aware of the character's humanity. Marsden, though an inherently absurd character, was acted to a tee by Galbreath, who took his absurdity to an entirely new level from that articulated by Christie. An apparent “gentleman” he recalls how it was unfortunate for himself to have run over two children back in Cambridge and proceeds to clamber, drink in hand, onto a sofa on which two people are seated, displacing Vera. Likewise, even in a moment of extraordinarily heated tension at the end when Wargrave is professing Vera’s imminent death, he exclaims in a semi-ridiculous tone, “You’re not crazy… I’m crazy, but you’re not!!”.
The set designers provided an apt creation of Christie’s “thoroughly modern” house. The stage was arranged in a relatively open space that could take on the character of a sitting room or bedroom in its turn and likewise emphasized the lack of “sliding panels” etc. where a potential murderer could hide, for the audience could clearly see every piece of furniture and the way the characters interacted with it. The integration of apparently open windows facing away from the audience was particularly effective and served to highlight the characters’ awareness of the weather and goings on out of doors that the audience could not see and were thus forced to take their word for.
And Then There Were None, a worldwide best-selling mystery, for its encouragement of the audience to come to their own equally thrilling and perplexing conclusions, was performed and produced beautifully by the Mermaids cast in the classic image Christie had envisioned.