NO productions of Agatha Christie’s house party thriller And Then There Were None in York for ages, but suddenly, like buses…and then there were two.
Andrew Isherwood’s film noir-style nail-biter for York company Pick Me Up Theatre opens at Theatre@41, Monkgate, on Friday, to be followed by Lucy Bailey’s 21st reinvention on tour at the Grand Opera House from November 21 to 25.
In Christie’s murder mystery, Europe is teetering on the brink of war when eight strangers receive an intriguing invitation to a posh house party on Soldier Island, an isolated rock near the Devon coast.
These house guests are to be met by the butler and his housekeeper wife…And Then There Were Ten, but not for long.
All have a wicked past they are unwilling to reveal and a secret destined to seal their fate. For each has been marked for murder. As the weather turns, the bloodbath begins and one by one they are brutally murdered in accordance with the lines of a sinister nursery rhyme.
More on Bailey’s touring show for Fiery Angel, ROYO and the Royal & Derngate, Northampton, in November, but first the focus falls on Andrew Isherwood picking up the directorial reins for Pick Me Up for the first time, as well as playing one of the suspects already cast by producer Robert Readman.
“It’s a fantastic play,” he says. “Having acted for more than ten years now, I’ve been wanting to spread my wings a little, and when this play came up, I jumped at the chance to give it a shot with a fairly sizeable cast for a piece that’s very dialogue heavy.
“Bringing together some of the best actors we have in York, it was too good an opportunity to miss. For the audience, can I find a tone and a pace to the show that keeps people engaged and involved from beginning to end?”
To do so, combining directing and acting has been challenging. “That’s for sure,” says Andrew. “To switch between performance and honing the performances of the cast, working on the fine details. I’ve focused a lot on developing as a director while maintaining committed to my role. It’s a fine balance.”
He will play retired Inspector William Henry Blore, who should know his way around a crime scene and be a dependable chap in a crisis, but when the killing starts, is this former copper the bookies’ best bet for whodunit?
“I really enjoy the duality and complexity of Blore’s character,” says Andrew. “Having the opportunity to play a character who presents himself as one thing and reveals himself to be another. To play a character within a character as it were. It’s something I’ve not done before, which is always attractive.”
Christie’s abiding popularity, on stage, screen and page, is no mystery to Andrew. “She’s a British icon; her name has instant brand recognition as it were,” he says. “Even if you’ve never even read or seen an Agatha Christie, you know she’s synonymous with intrigue, mystery and drama. I think the success of Poirot, in particular, has permeated our culture in such a way that associates itself with class and quality.”
Why are the British so fascinated by murder, mystery and death, Andrew? “It’s irresistible. The search for answers. The need to know. The intrigue, The darkness of man’s soul. The exploration of the darker side that’s quite seductive. It’s important to have some mystery to life,” he says.
Joining Isherwood’s Blore in Pick Me Up’s cast will be Flo Poskitt’s Vera Claythorne; Mike Hickman’s Philip Lombard; Rory Mulvihill’s Sir Lawrence Wargrave; husband and wife Martyn and Jeannette Hunter’s butler Rogers and housekeeper wife Mrs Rogers; Andrew Roberts’s Anthony Marston; Ian Giles’s General John MacKenzie; Mark Simmonds’s Dr Edward Armstrong and Jess Murray’s Emily Brent.
Such familiar faces from the York stage scene recalls the old days of repertory theatre, enjoying seeing regulars in new roles. “I’ve certainly been very lucky and blessed to have such a fantastic cast. A lot of known and returning faces gives the sense that this is a company of experienced hands,” says Andrew.
“Directing this production has been such a wonderful experience because I know the roles will be brought so brilliantly to life. It’s certainly a good feeling to know that each scene is in the hands of compelling and experienced actors, and I’ve really enjoyed working with each of them, developing, finding new folds and creases to their characters.”
Producer Readman’s set design will play its part in the thrills and spills. “Robert has designed a fabulous set using levels and lighting to create mood and atmosphere. The design is created to reflect the shape of the island itself, and the lighting will be very evocative and in the style of film noir to fully immerse our audience in this world,” says Andrew.
In this autumn of And There Were None at the double, he is “glad we’re getting in there first”. “It certainly becomes a part of professional pride that if you come to see our version, we’ll be every bit as good as you would expect from the Opera House show. I’ve felt for a long time that the line between what you would consider an ‘amateur’ show versus a ‘professional’ show is a fine one,” says Andrew.
“Definitely in the shows I’ve been involved with. From Robert Readman’s set to the costumes and the quality of the performances, it’s every bit as good as you would see in London. So come join us on the island!”
Pick Me Up Theatre in Agatha Christie’s And Then There None, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, September 22 to 30. Performances: 7.30pm, September 22, 23, 26 to 30; 2.30pm, September 23, 24 and 30. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
And now there are two
IN Lucy Bailey’s “bold and exciting” 21st reinvention of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, ten strangers are lured to a solitary mansion off the coast of Devon. When a terrible storm cuts them off from the mainland, and with their hosts mysteriously absent, the true reason for their presence on the island becomes horribly clear, as secrets from their past come back to haunt each and every one of them.
Confirmed in the cast for the York-bound Fiery Angel, ROYO and Royal & Derngate, Northampton touring production are Bob Barrett as Dr Edward Armstrong; Joseph Beattie as Philip Lombard; Oliver Clayton as Anthony Marston; Jeffery Kissoon as General John MacKenzie and Andrew Lancel as retired Inspector William Blore.
So too are Nicola May-Taylor as Jane Pinchbeck; Katy Stephens as Emily Brent; Lucy Tregear as Georgina Rogers; Sophie Walter as Vera Claythorne; Matt Weyland as Narracott/Understudy and David Yelland as Judge Wargrave. Louise McNulty will be on understudy duty.
Lucy Bailey has previous form for Christie productions, having directed Witness For The Prosecution, now in its sixth year, as well as Frederick Knott’s Dial M For Murder, Baby Doll, Titus Andronicus and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
She is joined in the production team by UK Theatre Award-winning set and costume designer Mike Britton, lighting designer Chris Davey, sound designer and composer Elizabeth Purnell, fight director Renny Krupinski and movement director by Ayse Tashkiran.
Fiery Angel, ROYO and Royal & Derngate, Northampton, present And Then There Were None at Grand Opera House, York, November 21 to 25, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday matinees. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
Did you know?
AND Then There Were None is not only Agatha Christie’s most read work, but also the best-selling crime novel of all time, selling more than 100 million copies worldwide since its first publication in 1939.