October 24, 2021
Carousel brings killer show to the stage in Agatha Christie murder mystery
By John Busbee for The Culture Buzz
Carousel Theatre of Indianola has developed an appealing reputation for bringing an eclectic mix of live performances to the stage for their audiences. From new works to musicals to seldom-seen classics, Carousel keeps their show selection as diverse as a Sunday potluck gathering. And Then There Were None falls in the latter category, as they pull from a classic 1939 Agatha Christie novel, with her adaptation debuting on stage in 1943. It opened in London’s West End at the St. James Theatre and ran for 260 performances. It closed when that theatre was bombed during the war. Christie considered this play the beginning of her expanded career as a playwright. And Then There Were None also was produced on Broadway in 1944, and as a 1945 film, revived in another cinematic version in 1974.
The pedigree of this story should be enough to draw in plenty of nostalgic and curious patrons. Carousel proves its ingenuity and adaptability again as it transforms the Better Homes & Gardens event space just off the Indianola square into an intimate performing venue. Patrons should prepare themselves for an extended time with this production – it is in 3 acts, and runs almost 3 hours (including its two intermissions). The three acts almost break down into the three components of this murderous story. Act one, introduction of characters and reason all have been gathered at isolated destination. Act two, the mayhem ratchets. Act three, careening towards the conclusion. All seem to have some dark secret buried in the closets of their lives, and now are confronted with their past.
This is a captivating Christie story, filled with the noir overtones that allow us to spin into a suspension of disbelief of what transpires. The pre-deceased are caught in a deadly game of permanent elimination, and, as observers, find ourselves buffeted about in trying to resolve the mystery of the perpetrator. As reviewer Ivor Brown wrote in his 1943 The Observer review, “Miss Agatha Christie does not stint things. Like Hotspur, who could kill six dozen Scots at breakfast, complain of his quiet life, and then ask for work, she is not one to be concerned about a mere singleton corpse. But she can add quality to quantity in her domestic morgue.”
While this production is far from perfection, it delivers a delightful diversion for the community to enjoy the work of their friends in mounting a production for cultural consumption. The pacing is too slow, the greatest weakness with this show, not allowing the dialogue to reach the underlying, building tension the script allows. A more brisk pace would also have created greater connectivity between the characters, as the dialogue quickly pops from one to another throughout the show. The performance this reviewer experienced had to deal with a rain storm and, unfortunately, there were many times actors didn’t elevate their project to be heard over the rain clattering on the roof. Another shortcoming is with stage smoking, where actors need to be well-versed on how to handle a cigarette so it appears realistic and part of their character.
Warts and all, this show has several bright spots. It was refreshing to see a company pull a script from a classic time and put it on the stage. Christie has a special cachet, and the overall presentation of her story resonated. This fairly large cast, for the venue, was a mix of veterans and newcomers to Carousel. While dialects were inconsistent, the ensemble found their own blend of voicing for their characters, with some strong character interaction peppering the action as interplay bounces from one to the next.
Deb Hade embodied a prim, austere Emily Brent most effectively. As Philip Lombard, the career soldier, Sam Sides brings a wonderful energy to his role. As the service staff, Rogers and Mrs. Rogers, Shawn Pavlik and Erika Eckley give a nice turn in their roles, bringing a believability to their stage relationship, especially when alone. The subtle glue to this ensemble is Joel Hade as Sir Lawrence Wargrave, giving his character an engaging depth as Wargrave evolves as the assembled lot begins dropping from this deadly game.
Carousel Theatre Company doesn’t promise Broadway, but it will deliver a refreshing dose of enthusiastic devotion to developing hometown thespian artistry for its community. This is a rare opportunity to see a seldom-produced play, and receive a vicarious jolt as Christie’s storytelling magic unfolds in a live performance.
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