REVIEW: And Then There Were None, Devonshire Park Theatre

And Then There Were None, Devonshire Park, Eastbourne SUS-151203-095807001
And Then There Were None, Devonshire Park, Eastbourne SUS-151203-095807001

A packed house at the Devonshire Park, a stellar cast all performing at the highest level, and a classic Agatha Christie: this is proper theatre.

And Then There Were None is widely considered to be the very finest work from the Queen of Crime. No Marple or Poirot and nothing formulaic, but an intriguing concept, a wickedly clever plot and a setting to make you shiver. The Agatha Christie Theatre Company celebrates its tenth anniversary with an absolute winner

Bill Kenwright productions seldom fail. They do not over-complicate, experiment or puzzle – although this play does have a challenging moral question at its heart. But essentially, the company is there to entertain you, and here it succeeds consummately

Ten strangers are lured to a mansion on a remote island off the Devon coast – but its mysterious owner is missing. A recorded message accuses each guest of past crimes, and one by one they face a dreadful justice

Some thrillers are driven along by a fiendishly complex plot, with the actors merely vehicles for it. Not so here. Joe Harmston’s direction brings out strong characters and strong first impacts, and the seasoned cast are confident and convincing

Simon Scullion’s set design should be up for one of those award nights. A massive circular Art Deco window towers above the set, with dazzling light behind it. But each character, stepping through it, must leave the safety of the real world behind and must face the dark events unfolding within

And when the curtain rises on the fateful third act, the great doors have been slammed shut across the window – and we are all, actors and audience alike, trapped and enclosed while the story reaches its shuddering conclusion. A quite superb example of the theatre designer’s art: not separate, but actually woven into the play.

Monday’s opening night felt a bit like an amateur sleuths’ convention, with the audience straining intently for clues, and absorbed until the very final moments. All their best guesses were probably confounded by the outcome – and they absolutely loved it.

The quality of acting is uniformly excellent. Ben Nealon, like a dashing matinee idol, commands the stage and often drives the story forward. Paul Nicholas has such command and gravitas as the judge that you have to double-check the programme to confirm that yes, he is the Paul Nicholas with a fabulous CV in comedy and musical theatre. Mark Curry’s disconcerted doctor is perfectly judged, and Susan Penhaligon is beautifully petty and poisonous

There is no weak link. Eric Carte’s retired general is actually very human and sympathetic – and a lot more likeable than Colin Buchanan’s wonderfully cynical and seasoned ex-detective. Verity Rushworth combines outward elegance with inner fragility, and Paul Hassall is all posture and shallowness. Housekeepers Frazer Hines and Judith Rae have a nicely false servility, and Jan Knightley has a cameo as the fair-weather local boatman.

The production runs until Saturday (14th). Catch the boat to the island now – but do be aware that the ferryman only sells single tickets……

PICTURE BY PAMELA RAITH