Venue: The Drama Barn
“Ten little soldier boys went out to dine; One choked his little self and then there were Nine,” the ominous tone of this wickedly clever crime thriller was an absolute treat to watch for my first viewing of a Drama Barn production. Going in I had low hopes that a student production could pull off a show so dense and multifaceted. But my goodness I have never been more wrong as directors Jared More and Kosi Carter put on a stunning show.
At surface level “And Then There Were None” portrays the ominous tale of ten guests brought together by a mysterious entity to stay at a house on soldier island, a remote place with no means of departure, their previous misdeeds are revealed and now they are essentially in purgatory as they must watch their fate fall at their feet. Although I had my hesitations about the play in this space, the intimate setting of the Drama Barn worked unbelievably well and was immersive from the start, with the Rogers pottering around the stage as the audience took their seats. The addition of the coffee table right next to the audience extended this immersion to another level, forcing the audience to shift from passive observers to being hesitatingly welcomed into the living room. This technique paid off for a play that oozes tension, and although a cliché, I quite literally was sitting on the edge of my seat, I even brought a pen and paper to make notes and by the end of the first act suddenly realised was too intensely invested to remember to use it.
Although the set fell down in places, the shabby chic element worked for an isolated beach house the upper class could turn their noses up at. Additionally, having the painted rhyme on the wall provided an anchor for the play, and the use of the chessboard underneath was particularly clever, always leaving me curious as to who had taken the pieces, providing a mystery in itself. The introductory scene of the play did a lot to increase tension as all appears calm but the characters are already riling themselves up and have subconscious worries, when arriving they individually and surreptitiously all look at the writing on the wall. The costumes although admittedly at first seemed thrown together actually grew on me as I became more aware of the characters and their developments.
Lighting was reflective of the play’s tone throughout, almost piercingly bright at first and gradually moving towards blue hues. A particularly poignant scene was the use of red light when Vera and Lombard run back into the house and he is comforting her, when the lights drastically rise, it is shocking—but mostly as of a consequence of effective lighting. It seemed that everything was carefully considered even down to the original music used when changing scenes which tied everything together and provided a touch that otherwise would have brought the energy down. However, what made it so enjoyable to watch was the spacing used by the characters in the room, progressing from a calm plentiful distance between the characters to close scrambled messes in times of panic. The pace of the play was also spot on, I was a little bit concerned when I was told the running time was two and a half hours long, but the time flew by with ease.
Now excuse me a minute while I waffle on about the cast, who were all absolutely brilliant. Firstly Sarah Warham was absolutely phenomenal, she immersed herself in her part from the moment she stepped on the stage, her acting reflecting in the moment thought processes and reactions to other characters that were multifaceted in themselves and an absolutely harrowing performance of a chilling end that was hard to watch. The chemistry between Warham and Max Manning was apparent and tangible. Manning was a joy to watch, with perfect comedic timing and a deep understanding of his character. The relationship between Lombard and Blore was levelled and riveting. Jack Tindle’s charismatic mannerisms were absolutely hilarious and he seemed completely at home with his part, as well as donning a rather impressive South African accent. Richard Spears displayed an absolutely chilling portrayal of Justice Lawerence Wargrave that had me squirming in my seat. Cullum Ball portrayed the anxious disposition of Dr Armstrong incredibly well and really showed growth throughout the character arc, which could have easily gone unnoticed if not portrayed well. Kate Stephenson was excellently cast as the straight, prim and proper Emily Brent and she did an absolutely fantastic job of making me loathe her. I thought it worked extremely well to have Marston played by a woman, Ruth Comerford’s portrayal of the character was vibrant, bubbly, loud and obnoxiously annoying. It would have been easy for this interpretation to have fallen flat especially at times when energy is built up only for it to fall flat with silence, however, this was effective, her mannerisms were also acutely brilliant to the extent of her pouring her drink down herself. Mackenzie is the hardest character to portray but Páll Joensen rose to the challenge well and produced heart-wrenching performance. Although it was apparent Eliot Bayley was the youngest on stage, he portrayed an anxious awkward Thomas Rogers extremely well, with acute reactions that were hilarious to watch. Ellie Ward was fantastic at playing the faffing Ethel Rogers in this portrayal with an effective interpretation of the character which added depth to what otherwise is just a weak willed woman. However, the relationship between them seemed more of a dysfunctional friendship than a marriage, if this was intentional to suggest there was more going on behind closed doors, this would need to be stronger portrayed. A major criticism is that one of the major sources of conflict in the play is between the young and old generation but this was hard to portray in this adaptation due to the narrow age range in casting, however I felt this concept was shown in other ways such as the brilliantly frustrating dynamic between Miss Claythorne and Miss Brent. Ultimately, the ability of each actor to take each role as their own was spectacular and the dynamics of the characters with each other were all so intriguingly different with shockingly powerful effects.
Well, that’s it, folks, really all I’m saying is that you should absolutely, definitely, certainly and resolutely make your way down to Drama Barn tonight for a spectacular performance. You may even see me there again. My acute criticism to the cast, perhaps be a little bit more frugal with the cigarettes?