A good, classic mystery

Whodunit? The cast of And Then There Were None. Photo: supplied
Whodunit? The cast of And Then There Were None. Photo: supplied
A lockdown in the middle of play rehearsal is not ideal, but not unheard of these days. The cast of the Globe’s latest production And Then There Were None have made the best of the situation. Director Dale Neill tells Rebecca Fox the show must go on.

Dale Neill’s organisational tendencies have stood him in great stead many times.

The most recent has been his approach to directing Dunedin’s Globe Theatre’s latest production Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.

It meant the cast had already been in the theatre and blocked out their movements on stage prior to lockdown hitting.

‘‘We were in a blessed position because being organised as I am, I quite like having things blocked in very early.’’

That meant when they were confined to their homes by the latest Covid-19 outbreak they could continue to rehearse through online ‘‘meetings’’ and had time to learn their lines.

‘‘The hope being that the last couple weeks we have spent staring at each other through the screen when we get back to the theatre there will be minimal loss.’’

While not the same as being able to rehearse in person, it means not as much time has been lost.

‘‘It’s had a huge impact honestly, but I can’t commend the cast strongly enough for the work they are doing on screen,’’ Neill, a childcare centre manager, says.

‘‘It has certainly been a challenge and its meant we’ve have to change a few things and do things differently but it’s still going to be an awesome play.’’

Cast member Warren Chambers, who plays General McKenzie, an eldery widower, normally loves the process that goes into staging a show, but found it difficult to build up momentum while rehearsing online due to the lag in changing speakers.

‘‘You can’t really build any pace up in the tense scenes so it’s good to be back in the theatre.’’

Even though getting the play to the stage has been a bit of a mission, Neill, who has been involved in directing shows and plays for the past 20 years, would not have missed the opportunity as he is a huge Agatha Christie and murder mystery fan.

His passion for the British author’s work is one of the reasons The Globe approached him to direct the play.

‘‘I jumped at the chance straight away.’’

He first stared directing children at pantomimes and then started directing and acting, mostly for shows such as Shakespeare’s.

‘‘I have a similar love for Shakespeare as I do Agatha Christie,’’ he says.

‘‘He is not put on enough in New Zealand. I do love a really good literary figure to put on stage.’’

It was seeing a performance of Christie’s The Mousetrap at the Mayfair Theatre many years ago which he really enjoyed that piqued his interest.

‘‘I’ve been a stalwart of Agatha Christie ever since.’’

The way Christie writes things is what attracts Neill to her work.

‘‘She’s always thinking very methodically about the way things should appear on the page.

‘‘The interesting thing with Agatha Christie is that people always see The Mousetrap as one of her most popular works because it was on Broadway for a very long time but I think, and she would agree, this work here is one of her best.’’

Christie often said writing And Then There Were None was quite challenging, Neill says.

The story is about 10 strangers - a reckless playboy, a troubled Harley St doctor, a formidable judge, an uncouth detective, an unscrupulous mercenary, a God-fearing spinster, two restless servants, a highly decorated general and an anxious secretary - each with a secret to hide, invited to an island by an unknown host.

The book of the same name has sold more than 100million copies and is regarded as one of the best-selling books of all time.

‘‘She said on many occasions [it was] putting 10 people in a room, murdering them all and making it dramatic and also making it not obvious who the killer was - so she struggled a lot with this work.

‘‘She certainly wouldn’t have called it her best work but she would have called it her most satisfactory work.’’

As part of preparations for the show, Neill has read more about the writer and listened to interviews with her.

‘‘This story really took a toll on her.

‘‘A lot of what I like about Agatha Christie is her passion for her work, also her love of a mystery. Not only that, but to perpetuate a mystery herself by disappearing for a short time before her death where no-one knows what happened to her.

‘‘A living mystery, one that draws me in.’’

Neill has always been a murder mystery reader, as he does not like to read stories that are obvious.

‘‘Stories where you go, ‘I know where this is going’ [are better].

‘‘This story here is certainly is well written to the point that while you are observing it you could quite easily accuse another person of being the murderer and you could quite possibly be right..."

One of the good things about Christie is she writes characters and presents her work in such a way that readers and watchers are always guessing right up to the end, Neill says.

‘‘You get to the last act thinking you know exactly who it is and then, bang, there’s a red herring and she’ll spin you off in another direction.’’

To bring the story alive at The Globe is a cast of regulars including Thomas Makinson and Laura Wells.

While the Globe has a strong following of female actors, the cast only had roles for two women.

‘‘So what I did was I re-cast the gender of one of the roles - I’m certainly not going to tell you which one it is - but I think it’s important that we foster and support everybody so if I see a chance to change something but not take away anything from the play, I will.

‘‘I went in with an open mind with a view to finding the best people for the roles.’’

The play has called for a box set, which The Globe has not done for a very long time.

‘‘We’re putting up a full Victorian 1930s room on stage. The last time we did as powerful as that was when a dug out was constructed on stage.’’

Adding to the atmosphere is the unknown of when each of the cast becomes no more.

While the team had big plans for period costuming, lockdown had put the extent of what will be achievable in doubt.

While the Level 2 Covid-19 restrictions mean they cannot sell full houses, The Globe can still stage a play within the restrictions, Neill says.

‘‘The show must go on - we can’t keep the doors shut for too long.

‘‘While we can, we will.’’

To see:

And Then There Were None
The Globe

September 30-October 2 at 7.30pm

October 3 at 2pm

October 5-9 at 7.30pm

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