Imagine you are invited to a private party at a plush British mansion on an island off the coast of Devon. There's no telephone or technology at all, and the only sound is the rhythmic crashing of sea onto the rocks. One by one, guests arrive from all walks of life: a soldier, an undercover cop, a judge, a doctor, a secretary and more. Soon, everyone discovers that the party's host is not arriving and they are trapped together on the island.
One by one, people start dying.
This is the plot for Studio Players' latest production, And Then There Were None, adapted by Agatha Christie herself from her own 1939 book of the same name. The novel is the best-selling mystery of all time.
Director Gary McCormick's production reveals a deft attention to detail and a careful balance between intrigue and comedy.
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While the show gets off to an unavoidably slow start — Christie takes her time in the first act establishing the characters — the pacing clips along in the second act, with murder after murder coming in quick succession and the audience suspecting each of the guests as the murderer. The murders are tied to a nursery rhyme, Ten Little Soldiers, which hangs on the wall above a shelf with ten soldier figurines. As each figurine disappears, so does the life of a guest.
Jim Daugherty's luxurious set design maximizes the Studio stage and effectively conjures the sense of both the isolation of the guests while hinting at the sweeping but dangerous seaside landscape that prevents their escape.
The cast counters the opening act's requisite British dryness by cultivating humorous character quirks and milking those for laughs. Take Gregory Hancock's particularly droll portrayal of Rogers, the servant so committed to his profession that he continues working even after his wife is one of the murder victims. Or Sharon Sikorski, whose constant tone of smug condescension makes her a truly nasty character. I have to admit to not being too sad when her character is murdered (Spoiler alert! In the novel, all of the characters die, but not all of them do in the play).
I particularly enjoyed Michael Mau's lively and humorous portrayal of Philip Lombard, a soldier with an appetite for adventure and romance, as well as the spirited and polished performance by Kathryn Newquist as Vera Claythorne, Lombard's occasional love interest. According to his bio, Mau is returning to the stage after a 14-year hiatus. I've seen Newquist twice on area stages (in praise-worthy roles in Actors Guild of Lexington shows like Sealed for Freshness and Other Hands) and look forward to following her local stage career.
Mounting a classic as widely known as And Then There Were None is always a challenge, but McCormick and crew deliver a solid production that humorously speaks to the Studio audience while maintaining the hallmarks of this well-known mystery.