Mystery has been considered one of the most daunting of theatrical genres to pull off; even more when you are staging a production of the world’s best-selling mystery till date – ‘And Then There Were None’, by the queen of mystery herself, Agatha Christie.
Now, not many would dare to put up an Agatha Christie adaptation on stage. Aaina Dramatics however, swear only by ‘go big or go home’. Staging a full-house production after two whole years in the Syndicate Golden Jubilee Hall, the nerve centre of Manipal theatre, the club had an immense amount of pressure on them.
‘And Then There Were None’ is a 1945 play by Christie, based on her masterpiece novel of the same name. The story revolves around a group of people with morally grey pasts, who are lured into coming to a deserted island to be ‘charged’ for their crimes. Gradually, all ten of the convicts are killed, each in a manner that seems to parallel the deaths in a nursery rhyme ‘Ten Little Soldier Boys’. For someone who has grown up reading her novels, a Christie centre-stage in college is what you declare as oh-so-major. Eager and hoping more than ever that the play stays true to the book, little did we know that we were in for some lovely theatre.
The play began with Mr. and Mrs. Rogers milling about the stage, trying to get the house ready for the eight house guests arriving shortly. Mrs. Rogers walked about in an angry fit, and complained about the unfairness of the task at hand while the dutiful Mr. Rogers reminded her repeatedly of the good pay she received. Initially, it was clear to see that the actors hadn’t settled into their characters; their acts rather put on.
As the first of the guests arrived—Vera Cleythorne, the seemingly innocent young secretary to Mrs. Owens (who never showed up), and Philip Lombard (Sankalp Kumar), the opinionated captain flirting unabashedly with Vera— the stage began to come to life. The cast consisted of the charming young Anthony Marston, the ostentatious Velma Blore (Avani Mogadala), the somber Dr. Armstrong (Sudhanshu Shekhar Singh), the severe old lady Emily Brent (Shreya Ranjan), the unassuming and aging General Mackenzie, and lastly, Sir Lawrence Wargrave.
The play only began to grip the audience at the sound of the ominous gramophone recording which accused all ten individuals of murder and subsequently the death of Anthony Marston. Suspecting each other and worried for themselves, each character finally slipped into the roles they’d been given. Soon, the deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Rogers led the cast to begin confessing the crimes that brought them to the island. One of the two scenes that, in our eyes, would stay in the audience’s minds for a long time to come would be when General Mackenzie, played by Mohit Indumukhi, confused Vera Cleythorne to be his wife, Leslie. As General Mackenzie turned increasingly violent and finally confessed to his wife’s murder, Vera (Khushboo Tiwari), did a wonderful job of portraying fear. Her eyes could clearly be seen widening and her voice, cracking, which led the audience to gasp collectively when Mackenzie hit her.
The second scene, the scene that still invokes fear and goosebumps everytime we think about it, was when Sir Lawrence Wargrave, played by the legendary Anvesh Badamikar, reappeared and in his manic state, dragged Vera to the noose that would kill her. Wargrave dropped the act of the dignified old man, bent over his walking stick and revealed himself to be the criminal mastermind that took nine lives. Finally, the last scene sent chill across spines as all the characters walked on stage while the gramophone eerily played ‘Ten Little Soldier Boys’.
Although each of the ‘Ten Little Soldier Boys’ of Aaina gave stellar performances, we couldn’t help but pick favourite. Anvesh Badamikar, who played Sir Lawrence Wargave, was simply powerful. What was remarkable about the actor’s performance was his rapid swing from a reserved, thoughtful Wargrave to the evil man who was the murderer all along. Anvesh Badamikar’s powerful voice wrapped up the play so well as he exclaimed ‘And Then There Were None’, while having shot himself in the throat.
Christie herself has admitted of the book posing for her as the most challenging work. When it comes to direction, tackling an Agatha Christie is a test of the wits. The only way to do justice to the element of suspense in the book, was to give adequate weight to each of the ten characters so that each time one of them dies, the audience is genuinely shocked and wonders who’s next. The directors of the play, Dhananjaya Soin and Suryansh Mishra had successfully executed just that. Their ingenuity also lies in how the transitions and deaths are carried out, be it the gradual shift from a holiday atmosphere to murder plot chills; or the unvoiced, implicative portrayal of the deaths.
The set was fancy with the highlight being the home bar; although a little more attention could have been paid to the ambience of the island. The lightings, background score and make-up were all thoroughly planned out and well executed. When the lights went out, the audience was left reeling from the two hours of quality theatre they had just borne witness to. From the sounds of dread that the red lighting, signifying the death of another character, evoked to the three massive standing ovations the play received, we didn’t see a single unimpressed face in the audience.
- Rashmitha Muniandi and Natasha Kumar, for MTTN
- Photography by: Tamanna, Arvind, Samar, Akshay, Paritosh.