Then There Were None, Gielgud, London

Projectile vomiting puts a kick back into Agatha Christie
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The Independent Culture

Christie may be the author of The Mousetrap, the longest-running play in the West End, but, aside from that time-warp curiosity, the Queen of Crime has fallen distinctly out of fashion in London's theatreland.

Paradoxically, people go to Christie for reassurance - the dependable, cosy period charms of her tight little version of English village life with its snobberies and xenophobia. And if that's what's required, how can the stage compete with all those idyllically picturesque TV specials?

These are the problems that Chrorion, the company that owns Christie's rights, and director Steven Pimlott have set out to lick in And Then There Were None. Esteemed dramatist Kevin Elyot - who ruffled feathers when he gave a lipstick lesbian twist to the TV version of Body in the Library - has adapted this show from the 1939 novel, then called Ten Little Niggers, rather than from the later Christie play which softened the ending with survivors and improbable true love.

The result isn't a startling re-invention in the manner of Stephen Daldry's doll's house, freshly framed version of Priestley's An Inspector Calls, with which this has affinities. But it's a cleverly tweaked piece of work, adding a sheen of glamour, a streak of knowing camp comedy, and a darker edge to the ruthless retributive justice that governs the proceedings.

There are overtones (however unintentional) of The Tempest in a drama where 10 strangers - Richard Johnson's grim-faced Judge, Tara Fitzerald's sexy games teacher, Gemma Jones's reproving spinster et al - are lured to an exclusive island retreat (the chic modernist design is by Mark Thompson). Over dinner, they are each accused of having committed murder and then each, in turn, is slaughtered by a maniacal arch-plotter who must be one of them.

You know that this isn't your standard Christie conduct when the first victim projectile-vomits over a coffee table (a feat whose novelty earned a round of applause from the first-night audience). Nor have we often seen in this neck of the woods a woman stirring from post-coital slumber to a singularly bloody surprise.

Where Christie's humour is largely accidental, there are enjoyable planned jokes here, as when John Ramm's tottering butler humbly begs to move rooms because sharing with his dead wife "seems somewhat redundant".

If Pimlott screws the tension too predictably with great crashes of thunder, the production adroitly underlines the provocative approach to justice in the piece. All the characters have committed murders that are camouflaged beyond the reach of the law (allowing a child to drown for money; sending a man to his death in the trenches; operating while drunk). How despicable and yet how easily one might...

It would be unfair to reveal the substance of the climactic scene but it's a compliment to say that I think it would intrigue a Jacobean revenge dramatist.

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