Agatha Christie has always been a theatrical guilty pleasure, like sitting down with a nice genre book or singing along to top 40. Done well—as is the case with the Walnut Street Theatre’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE—Christie’s plays are a couple hours of straight-up entertainment. You may not spend days afterwards pondering the philosophical questions they raise, but you sure have fun.
Like Christie’s other works, AND THEN THERE WERE NONE is supremely well crafted, if improbable. Ten strangers have been coaxed by a certain U.N. Owen into a weekend getaway on isolated Soldier Island off southwest England. They’re an eclectic group—upper class twit Anthony Marston (played gleefully by Harry Smith), senile General MacKenzie (Peter Schmitz), and prudish Emily Brent (Wendy Scharfman) are among the most unusual—but each has a secret. When they are all gathered in the lavishly appointed great hall (Andrew Thompson’s set features dark wood, armaments and taxidermy, hanging scenes from the Bayeux tapestry, and a bear skin rug, among other fine touches), a disembodied voice accuses every one of them of being a murderer.
One by one they die, the deaths mirroring the children’s nursery rhyme “Ten Little Soldier Boys” (“nine little soldier boys sat out very late, one overslept himself then there were eight…”). They suspect the killer is on the island, perhaps even one of them. They try to figure it out; so does the audience.
It’s classic Christie, delightfully revealed and entertainingly played out. Of course, there’s an absurdity and silliness to the whole plot. Lesser directors might over-emphasize the farce; Charles Abbott has his talented cast play Christie straight, or as straight as the outlandish story and unusual characters allow. Leading the way are Damon Bonetti as the cocksure adventurer Captain Philip Lombard and Jessica Bedford as Vera Claythorne, the object of his flirtatious attentions. The cast take Christie seriously, and in doing so create a joyously entertaining romp. [Walnut Street Theatre Mainstage, 825 Walnut Street] March 10-April 26th, 2015; walnutstreettheatre.org.