YOU always know what you’re going to get from an Agatha Christie play, a bunch of aloof snobs gathered in a plush manor, more murders than the average Hollywood slasher movie, and a sting-in-the-tail ending.
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But, just like glamorous character Vera Claythorn’s backless evening dress, the stage adaptation of Christie’s 1939 novel (the best-selling crime book of all time) remains attractive, if a little camp, in 2015.
Set on an island off the coast of Devon, Christie’s masterpiece sees ten strangers lured to a stately mansion by the mysterious, unseen UN Owen.
Once gathered, the guests sit down to dinner whereby an equally mysterious male voice (coming from a gramophone record) accuses them all of hiding a deep, dark, murderous secret.
Then we’re off to the races, as, one by one, the characters are picked off (the title’s a bit of a giveaway).
Although originally based on not one, but two racist terms, the rhyme that plays a key part in the plot has been sensibly substituted for ‘soldiers’ instead.
You might not care about who gets bumped off and how many little ‘soldiers’ are left standing on the mantelpiece, but you will sit there trying to figure out whodunit.
Divided into three acts, the real strength of Bill Kenwright’s production, however, lies in its star cast of TV, film and music.
Paul Nicholas underpins everything as the creepy, disparaging face of the Establishment (Judge, Sir Lawrence Wargrave), whereas 1960’s pop-star Mark Wynter (Doctor Armstrong) comes across as an over-anxious Harold Shipman in a dinner jacket.
Deborah Grant, meanwhile, impresses as right-wing religious zealot Emily Brent, and Kezia Burrows, pictured, (Vera Claythorn) does her best Betty Boop impression while in a near constant state of hysteria.
OK, so the ending is a bit contrived, and it could be argued Christie’s work often puts quantity (bodies) over quality. There’s more titters than shivers to be had, too, and Dalziel And Pascoe’s Colin Buchanan delivers one of the most bizarre on-stage death scenes, ever.
Nevertheless, it is what it is, a pleasant, undemanding evening’s theatre.