Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

none cast

Dr Armstrong, Phillip Lombard, Sir Lawrence Wargrave, Vera Claythorne, Anthony Marston, Emily Brent, William Blore, Gen Mackenzie and Rogers - nine little soldiers awaiting their fate.

Pictures: David Fawbert Photography

And then there were none

Sutton Arts Theatre


Who doesn’t enjoy a good murder mystery or two? Or in this case 10, although one is a bit of a stretch, so to speak, as Agatha Christie’s most successful novel, published in 1939, stacks up a body count that even pips Will Shakespeare’s Hamlet death toll by one.

The first stage version, a year later, changed the book’s ending as it was thought too depressing and grim for the sensitivities of audiences Only a mere eight shuffled off the old mortal coil in that one, but here we are back to the full compliment of 10 little soldiers – the children’s rhyme that becomes the blueprint for murder.

Christie these days often appears dated and quaintly old fashioned, but director Dexter Whitehead manages to avoid that particular charge by giving what is a period piece a very modern, contemporary style, which helps make us feel at home in a world and society long gone.

Thus, we are back in the late 30s and boatman Fred, in a West Country drawl from Lee Connolly, brings ashore the eight people invited to the isolated house on Soldier Island off the Devon coast.

Seven have had invites to a house party which seem genuine, mentioning some acquaintance or incident from their past, or preying on their vanity, or promising excitement and, more importantly, remuneration.


Phebe Jackson as secretary Vera Claythorne

The first to arrive is the eighth, Vera Claythorne, played by Phebe Jackson, one of the young breed of fine actors coming through at Sutton. She is there on her first day of employment as a secretary to the owners, Mr and Mrs Owen.

Already there are the butler Rogers, played in a suitably subservient manner by Roger Shepherd, and his wife the cook, complaining about having to do housekeeping, and played, fussing about, by Jenny Gough.

Next to arrive is Phillip Lombard, a mercenary and adventurer played with a devil may care attitude by Robbie Newton, another of Sutton’s young guns, along with Giles Whorton.  Lombard lives life with an eye for the main chance and here has his eye on Vera, although as she is the only woman born this side of 1900 that is hardly surprising.

Then there is the vain, fast living, fast driving, callous and selfish Anthony Marston, given an attitude it is easy to dislike by Whorton. As the plot unfolds we discover he killed two children while speeding. His only regret is that he lost his licence for a while.

Sutton regular Mark Nattrass is Dr Armstrong, a teetotal Harley Street specialist with a past who treats nervous disorders, but seems to have picked up a few of his own along the way.

Richard Howell weighs in as William Blore, first posing as a South African, then revealed as an ex police inspector turned private eye employed to protect Mrs Owen’s jewels. Unlikely to nick them is Emily Brent, a lovely performance from Dorothy Goodwin as the prim, proper, unbending, God-faring, spinster who sits on moral ground so high it is snow capped and has glaciers. She can find immorality in pretty well anything.


Dangerous driver Anthony Marston, who happily admits killing two children,  played by Giles Whorton with Dr Armstrong and Vera behind

Paul Wescott bumbles along as Gen Mackenzie, a Great War staff officer whose mind struggles to stay in the present as he reminisces, struggles with guilt and at times even sees his dead wife Lesley.

Finally there is the judge, Sir Lawrence Wargrave, played with a judicial and slightly superior air by Patrick Richmond-Ward.

The only people missing are Mr and Mrs Owen, who it appears have been delayed in London – except it transpires no one has actually met them, including the staff, Rogers, his wife and Vera and, apart from Lombard and Blore, who are there for the money, none of the rest can actually remember ever meeting or knowing a Mr or Mrs Owen,

But it’s a house party, after all, so everyone dresses for dinner, gathering again in the sitting room, when a gramophone recording blares out and a sinister voice (Ian Eaton) relates the names of the 10 people in the house followed by the deaths the voice claims they are responsible for, their murders, and then asks if anyone wishes to offer a defence to the charges against them. The die has been cast.

There is no telephone, no boat and the ten are stranded. They all deny their crimes, of course, apart from boy racer Marston and soldier of fortune Lombard, who can see no wrong in their past deeds, and with plenty of food and drink in the house, they are at least comfortable for the evening and will be able to leave when the boat arrives early the next morning.

But when one of their number collapses and dies, and one of the ten toy soldiers on the mantelpiece is found broken, the children's poem, Ten Little Soldiers,  framed above the figures becomes a script for dying. It means a nervy night until the boat comes, and when it doesn’t . . . perhaps the title gives the rest away as the soldiers fall one by one.


Nerves fray between Robbie Newton's Lombard and Vera as the body count rises and the living suspect each other

The excellent cast do a splendid job in building up tension – I know the play and could still feel it - and at the interval there was plenty of speculation as to who was doing the killing – much of it wrong - which is a fair gauge as to how well a thriller has grabbed its audience. We even had some Ooohs and gasps as the body count mounted in Act 2 especially with the on-stage deaths.

There is tremendous attention to detail. The upper-class accents are not too cut glass, just enough to set the era, and they were consistent while costumes all looked authentic for the time and classes involved,

Sutton rightly has a reputation for its sets on one of the most limited stages in the region, with no wings or flies, yet they consistently manage convincing and inventive sets, here giving us an art deco French window opening on to a sea terrace designed by Whitehead with Mark Nattrass responsible for some very authentic looking, 1930’s furniture and props.

Tomos Frater had more than the usual on-off work to do with lighting with thunderstorms, candles, sunsets, electric lights and daylight to cope with, all working well with a changing back wall, all allied to Whitehead and Chris McHugh’s sound from boats to storms to crackly recording.

Incidentally, in the storm scenes we even had rain pouring down the windows which is a remarkable detail for any production, especially an amateur one.

It is a well-paced, well-acted thriller, which builds the tension quiet beautifully and will keep you guessing to the very end. Even if you know the plot, it is still a delight to see how well the tale is told. To 08-09-18,

Roger Clarke


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