Plano — For many fulfilling your murder mystery fix means turning to the Law and Order franchise, but for purists only Agatha Christie, the J. K. Rowling of crime fiction, will do. Actually, based on sales and numbers of languages translated into, it’s more accurate to say that Rowling is the Agatha Christie of youth fiction. And of all of her stories And Then There Were None was the most successful. Thanks to director Sue Birch and Theatre Britain, you can see it live at the Cox Building Playhouse in Plano.
Set designer Darryl P. Clement arranges a tidy drawing room in thrust configuration in front of large sea facing windows. A painting of churning surf hangs ominously reminding the audience of the characters’ island isolation. Playwright Christie, in her oft-parodied way, wastes no time getting them all together away from safety. In this case, ten people are stranded in a sea encircled holiday house. If it’s difficult, at first, to understand who they are or why they’re all here, it doesn’t matter. It’s all under false pretenses.
Shortly, a recording is played explaining the real reason: they’ve each gotten away with someone’s death and they’ve been summoned here to pay the ultimate price. The number of victims and manner of they’re demise is to follow the folk rhyme: Ten Little Soldiers (a title changed twice from previously offensive nouns). There are little figurines on a table that mysteriously turn up missing as the guests meet their various ends which, considering their number, happens with entertaining regularity.
To make matters more interesting, 10 murders and 10 characters leaves no one left over to be the murderer. The whole enterprise is an audacious display of complications. No wonder Christie is the unquestioned champion of this sort of thing and Theatre Britain manages the undertaking with surprising ease. Director Birch particularly excels in the disappearing theatrical art of blocking, or moving her actors around the stage. Not only do constantly moving stage pictures make for more interesting viewing, but they also allow the characters means of accomplishing their dastardly intent. An innocent trip to the window or couch may provide just the opportunity for criminal intent. Or maybe it’s just a red herring.
Surprisingly, the acting isn’t all that important. You don’t have to think magic is real in order to enjoy a magician, after all. The fun is trying to figure out how the tricks work. And in this script there are plenty of tricks.
This isn’t to say the cast of Theatre Britain’s production isn’t up to snuff. In fact, they are perfectly watchable. It’s just that realism is less important here than in, say, an O’Neill drama. At the risk of giving anything away, Kara Leimer as the secretary, Vera Claythorne, and Jackie L. Kemp as the judge, Sir Lawrence Wargrave, both distinguish themselves. Travis Cook, however, is probably the most engaging and at ease of the entire ensemble as the former military man Philip Lombard.
The three acts breezed by in a brisk two hours leaving plenty of time to ponder how it all worked. During the intermissions, the audience crackled with theories. Those in the know mercifully kept mum and everyone had a good time…watching people die.
Isn’t that the definition of guilty pleasure?