ANDREW Lancel returns to the Grand Opera House stage in York next week in Lucy Bailey’s “genuinely terrifying” touring production of Agatha Christie’s most successful thriller And Then There Were None.
“I think I first played there [in October 2014] in The Small Hand, a Susan Hill play produced by Bill Kenwright, the first of 14 I did with Bill, who became a great friend,” says Andrew. “He meant so much to me.”
Andrew, best known for his villainous role as Frank Foster in Coronation Street, has since appeared at the Grand Opera House as a jury member in Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men in December 2014 and manager Brian Epstein in Cilla The Musical in January 2018.
Now he is eight weeks into the first leg of a nationwide tour that will take a break after the York run before resuming from January to April 2024 and later travelling all over the world. “It’s been doing very well,” he says. “We’re rammed in every town, with standing ovations after every performance. Agatha Christie plays are going to last as long as Shakespeare will be done. She’s a genre in herself.”
Christie’s stage version of her best-selling 1939 crime novel revolves around ten strangers – eight guests, a butler and housekeeper – being lured to a solitary mansion off the coast of Devon. When a storm cuts them off from the mainland, the true reason for their presence on Soldier Island becomes horribly clear. One death at a time.
“People are getting bumped off. I don’t recommend anyone going near the stage!” jokes Andrew. “It’s a very timely production, with that thing of strangers going off to an island together. Look at TV shows, people going off to places and being eliminated one by one.
“In the hands of Lucy Bailey, who’s the reason I’m doing this show, she brings layers and textures of theatricality and darkness to this good old-fashioned thriller that starts very traditionally but then goes to another level. It’s shocking, but there’s also humour and the familiar characteristics of Agatha Christie.”
Christie has written more than one ending to And Then There Were None, but Andrew will not reveal the outcome in Bailey’s “reinvention for the 21st century”, except to say: “It’s very true to the novel, but what people are going to see at the Grand Opera House, as they are seeing up and down the country, is something unique, shocking. Our base line is the novel…but I ain’t gonna give anything away!”
Andrew continues: “Even if you know the play, you’ll see it in a new light in the way Lucy has done it. Its appeal spans the generations and it’s great to see some schools coming to it as their first piece of theatre. You hope they will pick up the Christie novels and come back to the theatre.”
Andrew plays William Blore, the retired police inspector summoned to Soldier Island, as it turns out, to answer belatedly to the crime of gaining promotion for himself by sending an innocent man named Landor to a penal colony, where he died.
“There are many sides to Blore. Everyone arrives on the island, lured there by an invitation where their curiosity and greed has got the better of them, but with a history of guilt in a crime for reasons that are revealed one by one,” he says.
“But Blore starts from a very different place [of authority] and it’s fascinating to see him gradually breaking down. Learning everyone’s back story is so revealing.
“The 1939 setting means the shadow of war hangs over them too, and it’s incredible what a harbinger this play is, given what’s going on around us now.”
Andrew is “really enjoying” playing Blore in Bailey’s production. “It’s a very physical part and a very physical play, from fights to montages to almost dances,” he says.
The death toll keeps rising, “but it’s very much an ensemble piece, and without giving too much away, they are there throughout”. Another intriguing reason to dive into the murk of And Then There Were None but be aware that tickets are selling fast.
Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, Grand Opera House, York, Tuesday (21/11/2023) to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday matinees. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.