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And Then There Were None. Louth Playgoers, Riverhead Theatre, Louth. 04 March 2024.

And Then There Were None is Agatha Christie’s most popular novel and the bestselling crime novel of all time, however I must confess that when it comes to Agatha Christie I am a complete heathen never having read her work and only watching the occasional adaptation on film or TV. So, I deliberately chose to avoid all spoilers prior to going to see Louth Playgoers directed by Daniel Wakefield along with Katherine Briggs and for those, like me, who have yet to discover the plot and whodunnit - I will avoid giving the game away in this review.

This is a large cast of ten actors, which includes director Briggs and has a complex plot that keeps the audience guessing right until the denouement at the end of the play. The set is an impressive, lavish, well-furnished 1930s-style drawing room of the sole house occupying Soldier Island, a remote island that is only accessible by boat, which arrives daily to deliver food and basic supplies. Thus the scene is set to isolate our principal cast with no means of escape when the murders begin. The house, we learn, is owned by Mr and Mrs Owen and is being prepared to host a weekend with eight guests. We meet the servants, struggling to ready the house for the visit, Rogers and Mrs. Rogers prepare the house to receive visitors following the deliveries by Fred Narracott. Once Narracott departs and the guests begin to arrive, we meet a secretary, an adventurer, a playboy, a doctor, a judge, a policeman, an old general and a prim and proper spinster with deep religious conviction. The stage is set for the killings to begin. Once gathered an audio recording made by their host is played and unveils deeply held secrets about every one of them, sowing the seeds of distrust and suspicion so that when the corpses begin to pile high, they rapidly turn on each other and none is above suspicion.

To recount the order in which characters are disposed of would give too many spoilers and thus, I shall avoid doing so. Instead, I shall consider the performance of each cast member in turn.

As Rogers, the butler, Andy Vallely is a common man whose bearing and stature transforms when called upon to perform his role as butler, his accent noticeably changes and becomes more refined when talking to his charges arousing a degree of suspicion from the outset. He carries himself extremely well and the chance between his "upstairs" persona and his "downstairs" persona are really well marked. As his wife Mrs. Rogers, the cook, Cheryl Vallely gives a lovely performance as a no-nonsense domestic servant, worrying about providing for guests and busying herself to ensure that the overworked duo will be able to cope with such a large party arriving and no other help present.

Director Katherine Briggs gives an outstanding performance as secretary Vera Claythorne. A capable, glamorous and strong-willed young woman recently employed as a secretary who has yet to meet her employer, having previously worked as a nanny. Briggs looks every inch the model of 1930s glamour when she appears in an exquisite evening gown for dinner and appears to attract the attention of every red-blooded male present on the island. To direct a complex and demanding show of this nature AND to appear in one of the main roles demonstrates exceptional ability from Briggs whose performance will remain with the audience for some time to come.

Arriving at the same time is the brash, and boastful Captain Lombard, an adventurer and former soldier who has lived a life of glamour, daring-do and adventure prior to arriving on Soldier Island. Darren Melton cuts an impressive figure as the slightly untrustworthy yet heroic Captain and we are never sure how trustworthy he is or if his tall tales are all to believed.

The foppish playboy, Anthony Marston is wonderfully portrayed by Jonathan Janney-Cryans. His devil-may-care attitude is reflected in his love of fast cars, chain-smoking and drinking whisky. With little or no regard for the well-being of those around him, Marston flouts his wealth and Janney-Cryans gives him a marvellously nonchalant air that is thoroughly believable even if the character unpleasant and selfish.

Russell Alder returns in a vastly different role form his previous portrayal of Granville in Open All Hours. Alder plays a police officer initially seeking to remain anonymous within the present company, instantly arousing suspicion through his inability to sustain his assumed fake identity until exposed early on. He is a forensic thinker of limited ability - no Hercule Poirot in the character of William Blore, but Alder presents a believable and slightly perplexed and frustrated policeman trying to get to the bottom of the murders, but could he have an alternative motive?

Andy De Renzi is most impressive in the role of General Mackenzie, a confused widower who imagines seeing his ex-wife everywhere. The old soldier is unable to adjust to change of any sort and De Renzi delivers some terrific lines with pomposity and just enough indication of confusion. Could the addled brain of the old soldier be a front for something far more nefarious? As Mackenzie, De Renzi convincingly presents a man truly lost in the depths of memory and delusion.

Spinster Emily Brent, is a tremendously horrific creature driven by her religious fervour and thoroughly judgmental of everyone she meets, applying her standards to others and offering withering disdain to each and every guest or member of staff. Jo Moore brings a deft comic touch to this monstrous creation of Christie. The audiences will adore her hideous perceptions and put downs of her fellow guests delivered with relish. She totters around the stage in heels that emphasise the emptiness of the house as the sound resonates through the auditorium.

The renowned judge, Sir Lawrence Wargrave is played with gravitas by Derek Hodges. Where the policeman appears to believe himself to be forensic in his analysis, Wargrave truly is, after years sitting in court breaking down the evidence presented to him and being forced to reach a verdict based on all available evidence. Hodges creates a character who is used to being heard, as judges are - when they talk they expect others to listen quietly - and commands the stage as he emerges as something of a leader at times in the hunt for the killer.

The final guest is Doctor Armstrong, a teetotaller who specialises in nervous disorders though none appears more nervous than he. Philip Marshall Junior gives what I consider to be his best performance to date, as a man so lacking in confidence and yet brim-full of knowledge, unable to believe in himself. He is clearly hiding a secret and yet he too commands the attention of his fellow guests when discussing the application of poisons and tinctures, narcotics and hypnotics. Marshall is ordinarily a towering presence on stage and yet he manages to transform himself into the meek, mild and exceptionally timid doctor with ease, often shrinking into the background almost to the point of invisibility.

Each actor has their standout moments in this complex thriller and I was amused, intrigued and above all entertained by this terrific production. Congratulations to everyone involved at Louth Playgoers, both onstage and backstage, the hard work and effort shows. This is a show you will not regret watching. Some tickets are available for forthcoming performances but are in short supply - proving the enduring appeal of Agatha Christie. Customers are advised to call the box-office in advance, to check availability or to visit the Riverhead Theatre's website.

Andy Evans 05 March 2024.

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