For two sold-out evenings, February 14 and 15, the Stirling University Drama Society (SUDS) put on a haunting adaptation of Agatha Christie’s famous murder mystery, And Then There Were None, at the Playhouse in Macrobert.
This play was Freya Stevenson’s and Teddy Finlow’s directorial debut, as well as Maisie Pirrie’s first time producing.
Freya said: “It was a really great experience and I am so glad I did it. I learned that there is so much more to the role than just directing the actors. We had to balance so many other jobs and keep the actors happy. It was a nice change from acting and it was very rewarding, however, I am looking forward to getting back into the stage as a performer!”
And Then There Were None follows ten strangers who have been invited to the remote Soldier Island by a Mr and Mrs Owen. When they arrive, the guests are greeted by Thomas Rogers (Christian Onella) and his wife, Ethel (Xaria Chalhani). They report that the hosts will not be arriving until the next day. All the guests gather in the drawing room that evening, and that is when the real fun begins.
The guests hear a recorded voice (Calum Cownie), which accuses each of them of a specific murder they committed in the past but never disclosed. They soon realise that none of them actually know Mr and Mrs Owen, suggesting they were all brought to the island according to someone’s elaborate plan.
I realised just how amazing the casting decisions were in this play as soon as the guests were introduced. Every single actor put their all into their role and brought their character to life. One of my favourite casting choices was Ruby Gilmour as Emily Brent. I thought she stole the show! Her ability to keep the same disapproving look all throughout her time on stage was super impressive.
Desra Dervin, who played Anthony Marston, was also an entertaining watch. She characterised his recklessness and lack of conscience masterfully. Melissa Malcolm’s character, the nervous wreck, Dr Edward George Armstrong, was also fun. She was expressive and got into the character of the doctor so well, I thought he might’ve been the killer.
I also enjoyed watching the performance of Em Allardyce as Vera Claythorne. They brought so much dynamism and passion to their role that it always felt like there was something missing on stage when they weren’t on it.
“Vera was fun to play,” said Em. “She was a mix of cool, calm and collected but also mental. Her first reaction to anything is to scream and flail around. Very fun.”
Em wore a bright green dress which they sourced themselves and I particularly liked it because it was so vivid. Their hair, styled by Ellie Shoffield and Lucie Muller, and makeup, done by Eilidh Brown (who was last year’s ‘Emma‘), also fit the lively character of Vera really well.
Next, I have to mention the brilliant performance of Maddie Dowell as Justice Wargrave. Having never read Christie’s mystery, I went into the play not knowing who would be the murderer. But my money wouldn’t have been on Dowell’s character at all. She had me fooled! Agatha Christie would be proud.
When asked about what it felt like to play a villain, Dowell told Brig: “I loved playing the villain! I find these characters always take the most rehearsal, and I never seem to find them until I’m on the stage. Understanding the motivation of the character is a key part of playing them successfully I find.
“The story was fantastic, I love murder mysteries and if I wasn’t part of the cast I would have been front row! Like [in] Clue, everyone has such distinct characters and that’s always fun to play around with.”
The set design and lighting
As for the stage lighting, controlled by David Stainbank and Richard Porter, one of my favourites was when the light was dimmed and electric candles were put around the stage, just before Wargrave was ‘killed’. Though the atmosphere felt quite cosy, it contrasted with the eerie, mysterious tone of the play.
It was really in the last few scenes, though, where I had chills going down my spine. It was when Wargrave revealed himself to be the killer to Vera. The bold, red lighting and Vera’s screaming and crying as she accepted she would die was a powerful, yet disturbing watch.
The last scene with Wargrave was Allardyce’s favourite scene to act out: “I’ve never had so much fun in a scene before, rolling around and screaming, crying and choking was cathartic almost. Plus the noose was incredible.”
What really brought this scene home to me was when the spotlight fell on Dowell and all that one could hear was Vera – who was now off-stage – choking.
Allardyce mentioned that “the screams and choking were all real and done backstage, live.”
The set design of the play was lovely, too. There were some nice touches, such as the wild boar rug, the fireplace and the frequented bar table in the corner, which felt like a character of its own. These elements showed the exquisiteness of the house the guests found themselves in.
I found the proxemics to also be exceptional. To fit so many people onto such a small stage takes talent. Every character and their relationships with each other were clear. Freya said that these scenes were the hardest to direct.
“We had to worry a lot about blocking and making the scene look natural and not too crammed,” she said.
There were occasions when actors turned their backs to the audience, making it somewhat hard to understand what they were saying. Nonetheless, this had no impact on the play; the plot was still coherent and the acting was generally splendid.
If I were to give a tip for future performances that include a bigger cast, though, it would be to state who’s playing who on the programme. Keeping up with the different names proved a little difficult in the first act.
Overall, the adaptation of And Then There Were None by SUDS was phenomenal. All the actors gave their performances their everything (an honourable mention goes to Edward Macmillan, who played General John Gordon Mackenzie, and his walking stick, which shook the whole room every time it struck the ground).
SUDS’ passion and drive have once again left the audience in awe.
Featured Image Credit: Julia Benko
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