Friday, March 11, 2016

New ending adds a twist to AND THEN THERE WERE NONE @ GLT

Agatha Christie is one of the world’s best-selling authors.  Her 66 detective novellas and fourteen short story collections have sold over a billion copies.  She is also credited with writing the play and movie scripts for some of her works. 

Two of her most popular works are AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, which is now in production at Great Lakes Theatre, and THE MOUSETRAP, which opened in London in 1952 and is still running.  The latter is the longest running play in Western theatre history, clocking up close to 30,000 consecutive performances. 

Several little known facts about THE MOUSETRAP are that Christie gave the rights to her grandson, Matthew Prichard, as a ninth birthday present, making him an instant millionaire.  In addition, the contract terms of the play declare that no film adaptation can be made until the West End production has been closed for at least six months.

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, was first a successful book which Christie transformed into a play.  Because of the complexity of all the deaths and incidental actions, many thought the play impossible to produce.  But staged it was.  The show opened in 1943 on the West End to positive reviews.  It ran 260 performances.  It would have lasted longer, but the theatre was destroyed during a Nazi blitzkrieg, interrupting the run.  A New York staging ran for 426 performances and the script has gone on to be one of the most produced at community theatres and high schools.

The play was written with two endings.   One, a happier conclusion, which was thought to be appropriate for war-torn Britain and an alternate, which parallels that of the original novel.  The latter, which was commissioned by Christie’s grandson, the same chap who gets all the royalties from THE MOUSETRAP, was first performed in September, 2015 and is the ending that director Charles Fee is using for the local production.

The “new” ending fulfills the dictates of the nursery rhyme on which the book was based, while the “old” ending leaves that poem unfinished.

The story concerns eight strangers who are invited by a “Mr. Owen,” to spend a weekend at the isolated Indian Island, off the English coast.  When the group arrives they find a butler and housekeeper, who have been informed that the host will not arrive until the next day. 

What do the group members have in common?  Why have they been invited?  Mystery is in the air.  Shortly after dressing for dinner, as they meet in the drawing room, a recorded voice accuses each of having committed a murder for which they have never been punished. They soon realize that none of them knows a Mr. Owen, and that they are trapped on the desolate island.  On the mantle are 10 little Indian statues. 

When one of the guests chokes to death from poisoned whiskey and an Indian figure falls to the floor and breaks, the plot takes off.  One down, nine to go!!

The GLT production holds the attention but is not compelling. 

The show was nicely staged by Fee, Russell Metheny’s up-scale set is gorgeous, Rick Martin’s lighting and Joe Court’s sound design help build the tension, Kim Krumm Sorenson’s costumes are era correct, but the pacing was a little languid and the excitement didn’t build as much as possible.  The ending seemed forced.  (Explaining why would expose the surprise ending, which is “no-no” in theatrical reviews and would require that I break the pledge I took at a London attendance of THE MOUSETRAP in which I swore never to reveal the ending of a Christie mystery.)

The cast is universally excellent with each character nicely developed.

Capsule judgement:  AND THEN THERE WERE NONE is a typical Agatha Christie mystery, filled with plot twists and turns.  It receives a very competent, if not compelling production at Great Lakes Theater.  It is a staging worth seeing for those who are novices to the world of Christie or want to activate their “who done it” prowess and figure out the “villain” based on the new ending to the script.

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE runs through March20, 2016 at the Hanna Theatre.  For tickets: 216-664-6064 or