“And Then There Were None” tells the tale of a group of guilty strangers trapped on an island, one by one accused of murder, and one by one dying. Eight guests who have never met each other or their apparently absent host and hostess are lured to the island, and along with two house servants, are marooned. A nursery rhyme tells how each of the ten “little birds” met their death until there was none.
“The play actually takes place in 1939 off the coast of Devon, off the coast of England,” said director Darrell Croft, who also serves as president of the Taber Players. “It’s the last great summer that England will ever have before the war starts in September. In many ways, it’s the last chance England will ever have its class system and its power as an empire, because after the Second World War it all greatly depreciated.”
“And Then There Were None”, originally published as a novel in 1939 with the now politically-incorrect sobriquet of “Ten Little Niggers”, became Agatha Christie’s best selling novel, the best-selling mystery and seventh best-selling book of all time. The book, in addition to the play, has been adapted into five films and various radio and television plays.
Not surprisingly, the novel and play had its name changed three times to better suit changing political acceptabilities. The original title comes from the British nursery rhyme which serves as a major plot point.
“It brings together 10 different people from different classes on to one island — they’re marooned on the island — and one of them is a murderer, and he slowly one by one kills them all off,” said Croft. “Originally in the novel they were all killed off, but in this show we have to have happy endings, so there’s a couple of survivors. I won’t say who — you have to guess that.”
The play opened at the St. James Theatre in London in November 1943 and ran for 260 performances until Feb. 24, 1944 when the theatre roof was damaged by bombing.
“That’s basically the story. They don’t really know who has been invited — they think they do — but they’re not sure,” said Croft. “They’ve taken the invitation just because it’s a free invitation to what is one of the key resort areas in England. It actually takes place on what today is Burgh Island. It has a luxurious hotel on it, and it’s still a place to go. The interesting thing about it is, in low tides, you can walk across to it, it’s only in high tides when it comes in. It’s famous for this huge tractor, that’s about 10 feet high, that goes across the water to deposit people on the other side.”
Christie actually wrote at the island in the past, basing some of her works there, according to Croft.
“It’s a very art deco place, and it’s a place that Agatha Christie actually went. She based two of her novels there — this is one of them, the other is “Evil Under the Sun” (1941). She used to go there to write. Even today, they have a special room — it’s really more of a little cottage outside the hotel — called the Christie Cottage.”
Opening night for the play will be Friday, March 14 at 7:30 p.m. at the Royal Canadian Legion Hall. Subsequent performances will be March 15 at 7:30 p.m., and March 16 at 2 p.m. for a Sunday matinee, a first for Taber Players productions.
There will also be evening performances on March 20-22 at 7:30 p.m., followed by evening performances March 27-28, and a final Saturday matinee at 2 p.m. on March 29.
Croft noted an influential factor involved in choosing the play was its large cast of characters, which is favourable for a number of reasons.
“Unfortunately, we always seem to have more women come out than guys. But it has a big cast, that’s the nice thing. It has that suspense of being marooned — most of Christie’s novels are like that — and when we did Mousetrap, it was very similar to that, being marooned in a winter storm. This is the same sort of thing, but adding to that suspense. It gives a chance for everyone to become their own little character, they’re all very interesting little characters that people can really bite off something.”
Taberites will probably recognize many of the actors in the play, but there will be new faces.
“Most of them are familiar. Usually every play we do, we get a few new people, so we’re introducing at least one new actor. He’s doing really well, he’s actually got some of the opening lines, that’s Dan (Pierson). The rest of the cast has in some cases moved up to bigger roles. Some are stuck doing the same roles. Pete Lovering has always, for some reason, played a judge. And he plays a judge in this one, too. So there will be some familiar faces.”
Rehearsals have been going well, according to Croft, who relates the company has been using Barnwell School to hone their craft in the lead up to opening night.
“They’ve been going quite well. We’ve had the rehearsals in Barnwell, at Barnwell School. It’s meant that some people have to drive. We have a couple from people from Lethbridge that are in both the cast and crew. So it’s a shorter drive for them. But it’s been working really well because we’ve had steady access to one room. We’ve been rehearsing Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and it’s worked quite well.”
Theatre-goers will probably notice a few changes to the set design, and the company is experimenting with sound arrangements and other aspects of the performance.
“We’re always trying new things,” said Croft. “There are some ambitious things with the set we’re trying out. Ben Steinborn is our set construction and design guy, and he always likes to try new things. A few ideas have gone out there, so there might be a few changes there. Also, with lighting, we’ve wanted to try to get it tighter, more of grid system over the stage, rather than shooting light down, because there’s a lot of bleed there. What happens is you almost light up the audience more than you light up the actors because as the light goes down it bleeds out. So the idea being if we get more of the light down — but that requires putting in towers and cross pieces across the set — for strength, structure and safety, we have to be very careful. We’re also going to be playing with some of the sound effects and sound. Being that it is a mystery, a good suspension is music or sound effects in the background. That’s a big challenge, we’ll see if it works out.”
The large cast has presented some difficulties for Croft in making sure the play will run smoothly and not seem hampered by large numbers of actors on stage at any given time.
“Having such a large cast, a big challenge here is at times we have up to at least 10 people on stage at one time. To keep them all in position, and keep them busy — and the way Christie has written things, there’ll be two people over here talking for about two or three pages, while people are just standing over here. So the challenge for those actors will be to still be involved, when they have no lines or anything else. In other productions, they might have been able to exit — here they have to be on stage. It adds tension if they’re all watching each other. It’s really been a blocking (determining an actor’s movements and positions) nightmare, to be honest, because to keep those people in a position where they can be seen by the audience, and still be moving and balanced so they don’t get in each other’s way or collide.”
Other aspects of the production have presented challenges due to the vintage of the play and the language that is sometimes used.
“It should be great. It’s got mystery, comedy, drama — it’s got everything. The neat thing about Agatha Christie’s writing is she does have these comic moments,” said Croft. “Also, we’re trying accents — trying to do different English accents. It’s very difficult to keep going throughout the length of a play, and be convincing. I’m finding now it’s difficult to work with play that’s almost 70 years old now. The younger actors — by which I mean under 40 — don’t know a lot of what the words may mean, and also because just the English connotations on words are just so different from what ours are. There’ll be a lot of moments of humour that are probably not intended.”
Tickets are $12 for under 18 and seniors, and $15 for adults, and can be obtained at Second Chance Pawn located at 5306 49th Avenue.
Thomas Rogers — Kealey Storrs
Mrs. Ethel Rogers — Jocelyn Steinborn
Fred Narracott — Dan H. Pierson
Vera Claythorne — Jaclynn Rapinda
Philip Lombard — Justin Black
Anthony Marston — Brandon O’Brien
William Henry Blore — Bob Morrison
Gen. John Gordon MacKenzie — Bill Lawson
Emily Brent — Lee Ann Anderson
Sir Lawrence Wargrave — Pete Lovering
Dr. Edward George Armstrong — Mark Harding