LUTG’s production of the classic Agatha Christie story ‘And Then There Were None’ comes to The Storey in Lancaster next week. Ahead of the show, SCAN spoke to director Sophie Goodman, tech manager Beth Manicom, and Ellie Evans, who plays Vera Claythorne.
What is the premise of And Then There Were None?
SG: It’s set in the 1940s. Ten guests arrive on an island – they’ve all been lured there under different pretences. When they get there, they are all accused of having committed murder. After that, they begin to die to the theme of a nursery rhyme. It’s a bit different from the traditional murder mystery in that there’s no detective trying to find the killer – it’s got to be one of them.
What was it that attracted you to this story?
EE: When I first read the script, I was really attracted to Vera’s character because she’s really strong and really forward-thinking. But she also comes across as quite needy, but that’s used in more of a manipulative way, which is quite interesting – to see how reacts with the other characters, and seems to get what she wants. I’ve never played a role like that before so I thought it would be a fun and interesting challenge.
BM: What we’re trying to do with it in terms of set and stage management is to create a feeling of isolation. It’s all very clinical and minimalist and modern, but the play is still set in the 1940s, creating that contrast. It’s really interesting to work with, to see what we can do with the set and the tech.
SG: I’ve always been a massive fan of Agatha Christie’s work, I really love her writing style. This one had always been my favourite book, I think it’s timeless in that the themes it deals with are still applicable. It doesn’t seem like a dated play, and I was really interested in how it could be brought into a modern context.
Ellie, what’s the experience of playing Vera been like?
EE: Vera’s quite difficult in some respects because you can’t always predict how she would react in all the situations. She wants to come across as a character who is very strong-willed and independent, but then when it comes to some of the travesties that go on in the play, she becomes very reliant on other characters, and shows a lot of weakness and vulnerability. It’s about getting that balance right.
You also have to figure out how much emotion she would show in certain scenes, because she’s actually quite a cold character, she shows some emotion to some characters but in general she’s quite cold to most of them. Working out when she would show emotion and the intensity of that emotion was something I found a little bit challenging.
How have you gone about creating the sights and sounds of this production?
BM: We’ve got soundscapes which are all based around them being on an island, so for example we use the sound of waves in the background. There’s no indication of any other life except theirs, it’s all about not allowing anything other than those characters to come into the space. The set is as minimalistic as possible to try and emphasise that isolation.
I’d like to give a shout-out to our stage manager Emma. All of the set is her design, she’s got sketchbooks full of it, and she’s also making props out of clay. It’s her vision that you will see. It’s incredibly minimalist, and LUTG have never done anything like it before.
When a story is as well-known as this one, does it add extra pressure?
SG: It does a little bit actually, because throughout this I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find all these closet Agatha Christie fans, friends who I didn’t even know were fans of her work. They found out I was doing this play and they’re really excited, so that does add an extra bit of pressure. So there is that expectation, which I think is why we’re trying to do something a bit different with it.
EE: It’s very easily adaptable. I’ve seen lots of different portrayals of Vera, and some of them were nowhere near what I had interpreted the character to be. So you’re thinking, are the audience going to like the way we’ve done it. I think what we’ve done is great, but there is definitely that pressure of whether there’s a right answer, and is it okay that what we’re doing is different.
How has this compared to previous LUTG shows you’ve been involved with?
EE: This is the biggest cast or crew I’ve ever been in, which is quite a nice experience because we’ve all gotten on really well. It’s also the first murder mystery I’ve done, and Vera’s a very different character to any of the ones I’ve played before.
BM: Previously, I’ve always been assistant on shows, and it’s nice to have some control – under Sophie’s esteemed leadership! It’s good to have control and do what we think works within the artistic vision.
SG: I’ve been on a production team and I’ve acted, but I’ve never directed before, and I’ve found that to be the thing that’s made this very different, because I’ve got to plan everything. There’s a lot more pressure, but I’ve also found it really fun.
How would you sell the show to anyone still on the fence?
BM: I would tell them to come, if nothing else just to see Alice Sherlock play Marston, and watch her dance around the stage and say “wizard”.
SG: It’s got lots of facets to it, there’s elements of comedy within it, which you might not expect with the theme of the play. It is so different from a traditional murder mystery. Murder mystery fans will really enjoy it because it’s still got all the elements, but I think there is also something in it for people who aren’t so fond of that genre, because it really does break the norms of it, and it has some very exciting plot twists.
EE: There’s also a lot of variation in the characters, so if you want to see a lot of different personalities sharing a stage and being in an environment that’s different, then it’s a good place to look.
And Then There Were None is showing at The Storey, Tuesday – Thursday week 28 (13th-15th June) at 7:00pm. Box office: firstname.lastname@example.org