Christie on Campus #9

Christie on Campus #9

A killer writer

You think you know the story. Think again.

Nobody plots and executes a murder mystery like Agatha Christie. In fact, writes cast member Stephen Fenerty, she pretty much defined the genre – and set the template for generations of ‘stalk and slash’ thrillers to come

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As part of our preparations for rehearsals, director Paul Green asked the cast to read Christie’s original novel of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE.

Although Christie adapted the play herself – and the play hits virtually all the main beats of the novel – the detail and depth of characterisation in the book make for a different experience. I have a 1966 Fontana paperback edition (costing 3/6) that retains the book’s original UK title. It must have been one of the last to do so.

ATTWNAND THEN THERE WERE NONE is the Christie novel that is most often mentioned by readers as being “the one that stumped me” when it comes to working out ‘whodunit’.

The main narrative ends with the killer still unknown. The reader only discovers who and how in a lengthy epilogue, which includes a chilling confession.

It’s all very clever: how Christie structures the plot, and plays with the reader.

This structure is distilled and ramped up in her play version, which has a running time of just 95 minutes. A great deal is packed in, I can tell you.

Christie builds the tension like a rollercoaster: the prolonged click-click-click of the carriages being pulled to the top of the first drop… that tiny pause… then the drop comes, you’re rushing over peaks and through tunnels at high speed, screams around you – until that sudden, shocking stop at the end.

Christie is a forward-looking writer in many ways. I was surprised more than once by the deftness of her writing, and by what a trailblazer she is.

Here’s an example. The preamble in the novel has the characters travelling to Soldier Island. In his train carriage, Blore meets a fully-fledged ‘harbinger’. Or to give this trope its proper name, a “Harbinger of Impending Doom” – and this apparently drunk old man plays a blinder. “There’s a squall coming,” he cackles. “Watch and pray… The day of judgment is at hand!” Lovely.

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Mordecai: the harbinger in THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2011)

In narratives like this, the harbinger plays a specific role: to warn the main characters about what’s about to befall them in the house, holiday camp or whatever location they’re heading for. The threat may be non-specific but the danger is very real. I was delighted to see this small but satisfying incident in the novel make it through to the play, in a brief recollection by Blore.

What follows in the novel is a template for the countless “murderer on the loose” stories that came in the decades after. A group is isolated, cut off from the world in a specific setting, and picked off one-by-one by a merciless killer. Revenge is generally the motive. All is revealed at the end.

And as Christie wrote, “it’s always more exciting to have a girl at the end” – whether that’s Jamie Lee Curtis or Neve Campbell.

Indeed, like the harbinger, the ‘final girl’ is another slasher convention that came to the fore in the 1970s when this set-up entered the post-Vietnam era with a cycle of increasingly gory horror films

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HALLOWEEN (1978) – ever spotted the screaming face made by the knuckles? Eyes, nose and mouth…

The setting could be an archetypal small town, as in John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978) – a film that further solidified the template, opening the floodgates to a thousand imitations – or a summer camp, as in Sean S. Cunningham’s equally successful FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980). Along with high schools, hospitals, shopping malls, and so on.

Described as “stalk and slash” they soon became known simply as “slasher movies”.

Violent, bloody (and often misogynistic), they generally match the Christie template in that victims are often ‘punished’ for a previous crime or transgression. These might range from the minor (sex outside marriage, tut tut) to the major (previous actions resulting in the death or disfigurement of the future killer).

Agatha Christie laid the foundations.

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FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980)

And while avoiding the excesses the genre would later feature, and generally writing (for the times) from quite a progressive pro-woman stance, Christie also takes the time to deliver ingenuous deaths. They are often clever and grisly (and sometimes funny) – like the FINAL DESTINATION films, a supernatural variation on this narrative – and in playing to those themes of revenge and/or delayed judgement or punishment for past misdemeanors.

So you can see a clear line from AND THEN THERE WERE NONE right up to today.

While SCREAM (1996) and its sequels cleverly subverted the genre, playing around with our expectations, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2011) does this even more intriguingly: a smart, funny and ultimately unsettling film.  The poster – shown at the top of this blog – shows the cabin (as seen in the EVIL DEAD films, CABIN FEVER, etc.) as a tricksy Rubik’s cube.

The house on Soldier Island might as well be a cabin in the woods.

happy_death_dayChristopher Landon’s HAPPY DEATH DAY (2017) brings the slasher movie bang up to date with a blackly comic and clever mash-up of GROUNDHOG DAY (1993) and HALLOWEEN, featuring a brilliant central performance by ‘final girl’ Jessica Rothe. Watch it. It’s not very gory – and it’s huge fun.

The sequel, HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U (2018) is out this February. I’ll be in the cinema.

In these modern takes on the genre, things are not always what they seem. And that brings us right back to the Dame of Death, Agatha Christie. As the poster for THE CABIN IN THE WOODS says: You think you know the story. Think again.

This applies, completely, to SUP’s new version of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE.

Think you know the story already?

Well, it’s true: we are using Christie’s original text and her original ending, and the characters you probably remember. But we are going to make you think again.

I promise.


SUP proudly presents Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE at NST Campus theatre from Wed 23-Sat 26 January 2019 – tickets from just £10

Concessions and group bookings also available

You can book your tickets here

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Christie on Campus #8

Countdown to death

It’s all hotting up in rehearsals, as the scripts go down and the cast don their costumes.

Director Paul Green pens our latest blog from the kill-zone that is Devon’s Soldier Island…

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All cast having made it through the Christmas and New Year break virtually unscathed – allowing for the odd car accident, house move and hangover, of course – everybody is now present and correct for Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE.

As you may have seen from some of our recent photographs, including those on this very page, the authentic 1950’s costumes have been obtained and tweaked. Just a few finishing touches are required now; the carefully chosen vintage costumes match the characters.

I think they look wonderful. It’s such a shame so many have to die. Then again, considering what they’ve all done in the past…

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Director Paul Green

These costumes really add something to the tone and character of the production.

Get it right, and the audience simply accept and get on with enjoying the show: just another element of the theatrical jigsaw to assimilate in a barely noticed way.

But get the costumes wrong, and the audience notice. We want the audience to be fully immersed – not distracted. 

So, we’re now entering the final stretch of rehearsals and the tension is rising nicely.

As the scripts have been torn from grasping hands, the flow and pace I’ve been striving for is now being achieved.

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Have you booked yet?

Everyone is having fun – or so they tell me – and this is evident in the performances and the group dynamic.

I am confident that, visually and verbally, this will be quite different from the traditional murder mystery format. I also believe this will be a very good thing – especially if you like edge of your seat tension and surprises.

Our prompt keeps telling me how transfixed she is by it all  – and she knows the ending!

I’m delighted with where we are, and I can’t wait to see it in front of an audience. So please make sure you’re part of this show too – by buying your ticket now.




SUP proudly presents Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE at NST Campus theatre from Wed 23-Sat 26 January 2019 – tickets from just £10

Concessions and group bookings also available

You can book your tickets here

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Ten Little Soldiers

Christie on Campus #6

Christie on Campus #6

Christie mystery

The strange case of the missing plaque

paulAgatha Christie famously disappeared in December 1926. The nation was gripped by this real-life mystery, which began when the 36-year-old author’s husband had asked her for a divorce.

Christie left the marital home in Sunningdale in Berkshire after writing a letter to her secretary to say she was going to Yorkshire.

Her Morris Cowley car and clothes were later found near Guildford, abandoned apparently after an accident, with no sign of the author, prompting speculation of suicide.Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 16.23.03

Eventually, more than 1,000 police officers and 15,000 volunteers joined the search.

Even fellow crime writers Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy L. Sayers became involved.

Christie eventually turned up at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel in Harrogate eleven days after leaving her home.

She had spent the entire time there, under an assumed name. She never discussed what happened.

Reasons ranging from depression and amnesia to a publicity stunt have been suggested.

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Agatha Christie in 1946

In 2006, a biographer used “medical case studies” to show that Christie “was in the grip of a rare but increasingly acknowledged mental condition known as a ‘fugue state’, or a period of out-of-body amnesia induced by stress. In effect, the writer was in a kind of trance for several days.”

Her disappearance even formed the basis of the film AGATHA (1979), starring Vanessa Redgrave, Dustin Hoffman and Timothy Dalton.

And now – 92 years after the famed author became the star of her own ‘why-dunit’ rather than a ‘whodunit’ – another Christie-related disappearance is set to grip the nation. Well, perhaps not.

SUP Secretary and cast member Paul Cresser, our very own Captain Lombard, takes up the story:

ATTWNAND THEN THERE WERE NONE is the second Agatha Christie play that I’ve appeared in, having been cast as Leonard Vole in “Witness for the Prosecution” in Torquay many years ago.

In fact, I have something in common with Christie: we were both born in Torquay.

So a few days ago, whilst visiting my family for Christmas, I decided to visit the blue plaque that commemorates her birthplace.

I also wanted to prove to our Director, Paul Green, that I was looking at my script over the Christmas break!

I thought I’d be able to track down the plaque fairly easily, as my family said they knew exactly where to find it…” OR SO THEY THOUGHT!

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What Paul should have found…

“We were surprised on our arrival to find nothing but an empty space where the plaque should be.

I’ve already tried to investigate what has happened to it, but without success.”

We will continue with our enquiries and report back to you.

In the meantime, if you have any ideas on what’s happened to the plaque, do get in touch. Please remember to tell your friends, family and colleagues about the show – and don’t forget to book  yourself.


SUP proudly presents Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE at NST Campus theatre from Wed 23-Sat 26 January 2019 – tickets from just £10

Concessions and group bookings also available

You can book your tickets here

IMG_4084

Ten Little Soldiers