Director's program notes
By Dr. Brian Cook
I read Agatha Christie’s original novel as part of an anthology of her novels many years ago. I was already hooked on crime stories and detective fiction, but this story particularly intrigued me: 10 people stranded on an island and murdered one by one to the tune of a sadistic nursery rhyme. It obviously has fascinated many people over the years, as it has been widely imitated and parodied, most recently in the two episodes of Family Guy collectively called “And Then There Were Fewer” in 2010. Christie herself imitated the story with her most famous stage play, The Mousetrap, which has been running non-stop in London since its premiere in 1952, and which, after nearly 65 years, is on target to play its 30,000th performance in 2017.
Christie was a master of creating situations that are both compelling and horrifying; here, she turns a lovely weekend at an island retreat into mental torture and mass murder. At its heart, And Then There Were None is, like most murder mysteries, a story about healing ruptures in the social fabric: people who have committed secret offenses must, at some point, face punishment in order to put right what once went wrong. Ironically, for Christie “healing” requires the systematic murder of 10 people at the hands of a “dangerous, homicidal lunatic.”
The vigilante justice in And Then There Were None might be read differently by modern audiences who have followed the plot of the novels-cum-TV series Dexter, about a serial killer with a conscience who only kills horrible people, many of them serial killers themselves. In offing a collection of far-from-innocents, is the putative villain in Christie’s story doing heroic work? Is her or his rectifying of past wrongs justified? I wonder if when s/he is revealed later this evening, you will be rooting for or against him/her. I wonder about Christie’s intentions when adapting the novel back in 1952: she wrote that she changed the ending of the play in an effort at a happier, more stageworthy conclusion. But I wonder if this isn’t in fact more transgressive than the novel, where all the evildoers got their comeuppance. The ten people brought to this island are brought there for a reason, and I’m not sure any of them are truly innocent and ethically and morally righteous. Not everyone will die tonight. And perhaps, just perhaps, Christie has allowed someone to get away with murder.