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Regional Reviews by Gavin Logan

And Then There Were None

Picture this: an impossibly remote mansion on an island; no phone lines; an unreliable ship for transport; ten strangers, each with his or her own deep, dark secret; a turbulent storm; a murderous madman on the loose; and ten tin soldiers that disappear as characters meet their ends. This is the premise of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, now playing at Calgary's only specialty mystery theatre, Vertigo Theatre. "And Then There Were None" (originally published as "Ten Little Indians"), Christie's most successful novel, has sold well over 100 million copies since its initial publication in 1939. Christie herself adapted the novel for the stage in 1943, and it is this adaptation that Vertigo Theatre has chosen to produce (there is another version of the story written for the stage by Kevin Elyot in 2005, per the program notes).

Director Valerie Ann Pearson has chosen to set the play in the time period of the original novel. This is wise, as it allows the audience to enter into the hokey fun of the piece without ever getting too annoyed by the continually recurring 'mystery genre' clichés. After all, Christie was one of the first to make the genre a mass market one, and her set ups were ingenious for the time. Clichés have to start somewhere, right? The impressive set design by Scott Reid immediately invites the audience into another era. It is a beautifully rendered art deco masterpiece, with a lovely black and white monochromatic colour palette, huge French doors opening onto a balcony which in turn overlooks the British sea. The occasional hint of red (a Bible in the hands of one sanctimonious spinster, some couch cushions) is a nice touch. Menace is in the air, and the atmosphere created is enticing.

Pearson's greatest directorial skill is in her pacing. The opening scene, rather heavy on greetings and establishing who is who, never becomes tedious. Each entry and exit is handled masterfully, and the audience is given just a taste of each character's personality before a new one is introduced. This is welcome, since Christie's exposition is uninspired—it's obvious she wanted to get to the murdering as quickly as possible. Pearson trusts the text and provides us with just that.

The cast is excellent, although there were a number of flubbed lines at the performance I attended, the most egregious occurring when a befuddled character turned to the table containing the tin soldiers and referred to them as "those Indi ... tin soldiers!" Nevertheless, overall they impress. Especially entertaining is Duncan Ollerenshaw (who was most impressive in Vertigo's Twelve Angry Men earlier this season) returning to the Vertigo stage in the role of the class conscious and slightly bitter butler, Rogers. Ollerenshaw is especially wonderful in the opening as he diligently and dutifully serves drinks and carries baggage, and delivers the same introductory greeting to each newly arrived guest, all the while seething with revulsion at the mere presence of the guests. Also wonderful is Stafford Perry who plays the spoiled rotten, conscienceless rich kid of the lot, Anthony Marston. Perry's Marston is pompous, eager and hysterical; when it is revealed that Marston had previously run over and killed two children while speeding, his nonchalance and complete disregard of the affair is shocking. When Marston meets his untimely demise, the audience is glad to see him dead and somewhat saddened to say goodbye to Perry's remarkable performance.

Curt McKinstry and Lesley Galbecka, who play the adventure-loving Philip Lombard and secretary out of her element Vera Claythorne, are also ideally suited to their roles. In McKinstry's hands, Lombard is that most dangerous and dashing of individuals, the unrepentant adventurer, while Galbecka's Vera Claythorne is a competent and somewhat brash young woman looking to make a name for herself. Indeed, Galbecka makes her character the most dynamic of the evening. What a treat it is to watch as Vera slowly begins to crack under the pressure, constantly switching allegiances, never quite sure who to believe or befriend. The sexual chemistry between McKinstry and Galbecka is also a treat, with cad-like Lombard making constant advances toward Vera, who rejects them as if to suggest he simply needs to try harder. It was great fun to watch.

A special mention must also be given once again to Scott Reid, who along with his set design duties also designed the lighting for the show. Reid does a remarkable job of setting the tone with the lighting. A few of the more impressive lighting elements include the way the lights grow brighter only in the vicinity of a character exiting with a candle, and then dim as he passes, as well as an excellent and ingenious lighting design used to suggest rain on the windows of the secluded mansion as Mother Nature rages on. It is a very interesting show to look at, thanks in large part to Reid's contributions.

And Then There Were None runs until April 3rd at Vertigo Theatre (115 - 9th Avenue SE, Calgary, AB, at the base of the Calgary Tower). For tickets, call the ticket office at (403) 221- 3708 or visit www.vertigotheatre.com for information on how to purchase tickets online.

--Gavin Logan



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