There has been ten years of murder on a massive scale played out at Milton Keynes Theatre since the yearly arrival, with all the inevitability of Christmas or Halloween, of the Agatha Christie Theatre Company.
Establishing a troupe dedicated to bringing out the worst in a company of top flight TV stars was the inspiration of Bill Kenwright with the blessing of the Queen of Crime’s estate.
We’ve enjoyed some real gems over the years and this week Milton Keynes sees the return of one of the crime-writer’s most successful stories.
And Then There Were None (ATTWN) is a real treat – if you can call it a night’s enjoyment watching the wholesale slaughter, no matter how imaginatively done, of nine star names.
Don’t you just love a Christie murder? We’ve seen hanging, stabbing, poisoning, shooting, drowning and more yet barely a drop of blood is ever spilled on the stage. Tonight we even had a pantomime death by tripwire. It’s about the most amicable depiction of homicide we’re ever likely to find in a theatre.
ATTWN is classic Christie. Ten “guilty” souls are summoned by various means, to a Devon island for a country-house weekend – except one of their number has murder in mind.
All are accused of killing someone and must pay for their crimes.
A “dangerous homicidal maniac” is at work and the only clue left to the victims is a child’s nursery rhyme, sensitively re-titled “Ten Little Soldier Boys”.
So who is the murderer? Is it the always watchable Ben Nealon, as devil-may-care adventurer and soldier, Philip Lombard? Or the mellifluous Paul Nicholas as Judge Wargrave? Or the prim and puritanical Bible-thumper Emily Brunt (ironic, considering some of the racy roles played by Susan Penhaligon in her younger days)?
Or perhaps the none-so-bright ex-cop (played by Dalziel & Pascoe ‘tec Colin Buchanan); former Blue Peter presenter Mark Curry or Emmerdale’s Frazer Hines?
Gosh, so many to choose from. My prime suspect lasted until the second interval before being bumped off and my second favourite almost made it to the finishing line. I’m losing my touch.
I really enjoy Nealon’s performances. He’s a stalwart of the company and always gives a charismatic and beautifully enunciated turn. Surely it’s him – isn’t it?
“The whole thing is like a detective story” exclaims one poor sap before biting the dust.
“None of us will ever leave the island. We are all going to die!” warns another (fatal last words).
There’s a lot of misdirection and the inevitable red herrings. Did the butler do it? (no, surely not the innocuous Hines?) Is Mark Curry’s nervous doctor all that he seems? The gorgeous secretary, Vera, (Verity Rushworth vamping it deliciously) seems too good to be true. Surely the elderly General Mackenzie (Eric Carte) is beyond suspicion?
ATTWN is one of the Christie Company’s best. It is a splendid ensemble piece with everyone giving their best guilty face and most innocent performance (though I thought I saw Mr Nicholas give a little snigger at the start of one scene). It’s pure melodrama.
The thriller was written more than 70 years ago yet director Joe Harmston delivers a cracking story that defies the years.
Simon Scuullion’s classy Art Deco drawing room provides the perfect setting for the ultimate whodunnit. I didn’t get it – will you?
A superb night’s entertainment.
ATTWN continues at MKT until Saturday.
Remaining 2015 tour dates
July 27-August 1, Theatre Royal, Newcastle August 3-8, Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds August 11-15, Bord Gais Theatre, Dublin August 17-22, Grand Theatre, Leeds August 24-29, Arts Theatre, Cambridge August 31-September 5, New Victoria Theatre, Woking September 7-12, Grand Theatre, Swansea September 14-19, Princess Theatre, Torquay September 21-26, Palace Theatre, Southend September 28-October3, Wyvern Theatre, Swindon October 5-10, Regent Theatre, Ipswich October 12-17, Assembly Hall, Tunbrdge Wells October 19-24, Theatre Royal, Glasgow October 26-31, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh November 2-7, His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen November 9-14, Derby Theatre November 16-21, Opera House, Manchester.
And Then There Were None
A house party turns into a scene of horror when a group featuring a host of television favourites die in a series of gruesome deaths. Yes, the Agatha Christie Theatre Company is back with the splendid whodunnit, And Then There Were None.