BLOG: Ghosts & Queens 3

Breathing new life into a Ravenhill play

Our latest guest blogger is Troy Chessman: a brand new SUP member and director of the upcoming GHOST STORY

Although I’ve trained as an actor, I’m no stranger to directing. I have directed a number of one act plays for drama festivals in Surrey.

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Actor/Director Troy Chessman

I made my debut in 2015 with an abridged version of ‘Macbeth’ which went on to compete at the next round of the All-England Theatre Festival in Oxsted. Since then, I have directed ‘Brighton Beach Scumbags’ by Stephen Berkoff and co-directed ‘Almost Nothing’ by Marcos Barbosa, which I also won ‘Best Actor’ for.

Beyond the festivals, I have also directed a new modern contextualised version of Titus Andronicus, ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ by Adam Peck at NST City, and my own original brand new play ‘Won’t Fade Away’ about Alzheimer’s disease and memory.

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Macbeth (2015)

When I heard that SUP was looking for a second play to enter into the Totton Drama Festival, my ears pricked up. ‘Ghost Story’ had been on my radar for a while. I then heard they were ideally looking for an all-female play and I knew I had to put it forward.

When choosing a play to direct, I always like to pick something that stirs something within me (and that can mean an array of things).

I ask myself, does this play make me think? Does it provide me with an opportunity to challenge myself as an artist? Are the themes relevant to me? Will it provide opportunities for my cast to create interesting characters? Is the message of the play something I advocate? Or is it something that bothers me, that I can address?

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Troy in ‘Almost Nothing’

‘Ghost Story’ by Mark Ravenhill is, in its essence, a dark play with moments of comedy and embers of light.

Although the play is centred around the subject of cancer, it is NOT ‘a play about cancer’.

Rather , it’s a play that explores three women’s responses to having/dealing with/loving someone with cancer.

The play also goes against the conventional ‘Mark Ravenhill’ content that one might expect. There is no swearing, no profanity, no sex, just a stark insight into the characters’ responses to cancer.

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Troy’s ‘Titus 2017’

The play questions the lies and truths that we tell ourselves and others in times of adversity. It offers three fascinating characters, each with their own motives and objectives.

Meryl is now a healer and a strong woman who had once overcome cancer but it is back  (is she a con women?).

Lisa is suffering from cancer and is looking to Meryl to coach and heal her to wellbeing (did her success in pushing Meryl to ‘cross the line’ impact Meryl’s fate?).

And there is Hannah, Meryl’s younger, naive and doting girlfriend, caught up in the impact of Meryl’s cancer (is her need to lie masking other issues?)

The play is not straightforward, the narrative leaves a lot to be deciphered, which is what makes the play so interesting.

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Rehearsals for SUP’s ‘Ghost Story’ – 2019

As a director, I am free to unpick, explore and interpret the text as I see it. The text raises a lot of questions, which was exciting to discuss in rehearsals.

Who is the ‘villain’ of the play? Why does Meryl do what she does? Why is this character lying? Why is this character telling the truth? IS this character telling the truth? Who is dead? Is anyone dead?

The more you delve into the writing the more questions appear, more opportunities to make the performance interesting and dynamic.

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Rehearsals for SUP’s ‘Ghost Story’ – 2019

In my rehearsal process I like to play with and explore new ideas.

I draw a lot of inspiration from the work of practitioners like Berkoff who choose to utilise the use of body and physicality, lifting the language of the text. I have tried to incorporate the use of breath and pace into the world of the characters.

The dialogue in this play is very important. I have stripped the set back to a minimum, giving us a suggestion of Meryl’s home in order to allow the performances, the dimensions, the chemistry of the actresses to be the focus of the piece.

I am incredibly lucky to have been able to cast three brilliant actresses who have taken on everything I have thrown at them and created three wonderfully compelling characters.

I can’t wait to share this piece with you and I hope you enjoy it.


SUP is proud to present GHOST STORY on a double-bill with Tennessee Williams’ AND TELL SAD STORIES OF THE DEATHS OF QUEENS for one night only.


SUP presents STORIES OF GHOSTS AND QUEENS at Totton Drama Festivaland FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY at the Rose Theatre, Eastleigh on Sat 6th April – 7.30pm

Tickets from just £9.50 – no booking fee payable

Click here to book tickets

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Christie on Campus #10

Christie on Campus #10

It’s show time: don’t blink

Ten victims. Ten suspects. Ten blogs… AND THEN THERE WERE NONE

It took a little persuasion from SUP to convince director Paul Green to take the helm on this new version of Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE.

He’d seen too many creaky am-dram productions on cluttered drawing room sets – and so he wanted to try something a little different…

“Don’t blink. Don’t even blink… Don’t turn your back, don’t look away, and don’t blink! Good luck…”

This time last year, if you had told me that I’d be directing an Agatha Christie play at NST Campus, I simply would not have believed you. But here we are, and you are about to see the culmination of a great deal of hard work, fun and ‘thinking outside the box’.

Fittingly, this is number ten in our series of pre-show blogs: the tenth and the last.

My starting point with the play was our group of performers. How do you integrate people who haven’t all worked together to trust each other? Remarkably easily, as it turned out.

I’ve been blessed with a cast that is happy to take multiple leaps of faith (quite literally) into uncharted territory, from the very first rehearsal onwards.

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The cast of SUP’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE

Maintaining the tension, suspense and paranoia that I wanted has been challenging and exhausting for all concerned but will, I am sure, produce a gripping, exciting and involving experience.

If you look at Christie’s script, I think the only real issues are to do with the stage mechanics, not her writing: notably the extremely detailed stage directions and the set itself, which are extremely prescriptive – if you choose to use them.

Her plotting is great. The story rattles along at a fine pace. Her characterization and dialogue are excellent. But the first thing I did was to strip back the set and furniture, so we could focus the action (and the audience) on what was really important – the growing suspicion, fear and paranoia on Soldier Island – and to throw the stage directions out of the window.

I wanted to create a far more fluid, free-flowing and immersive experience – reaching out into the audience at times.

So, if you come along expecting a drawing room/sit-down jolly murder mystery, I’d suggest that you strap yourself in and prepare for a rollercoaster ride instead. I believe theatre should be fun for all involved as well as challenging and risky – and hopefully there will be shocks and surprises aplenty.

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Paul Green

I also believe that challenging theatre convention provides a more interesting experience, so our audiences can expect to see stage pictures and behaviour that might grate and raise questions. That’s healthy.

A great many people have contributed to this show, far too many to mention, but my heartfelt thanks go to all those who have helped and supported the show.

So, can you spot the clues?

Never let your guard down. Don’t trust anyone. Don’t blink.

Enjoy the show.


Take your seats… 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

Click here to book tickets

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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.

ATTWN

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 #7

Christie on Campus #7

The New Year brings new blood to the Nuffeld stage

The cast of SUP’s upcoming AND THEN THERE WERE NONE includes new faces

When we auditioned and cast the show, we were pleased to welcome some exciting new talent to SUP Theatre Company.

In fact, the 10-strong cast is an almost 50/50 split, comprising five new or new-ish members alongside five longstanding players. This has made for a genuinely interesting dynamic within the cast, as old friends have come to blows in character – and new alliances are forged.

So, it’s in with the new…

Anna Hussey plays Mrs Rogers

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Anna Hussey

Anna has mainly been working backstage for the last decade, specialising in costume since leaving university.

She returned to the stage in 2016 and is making her debut performing with SUP in this thrilling production, with a marvellous turn as the hectoring and put-upon housekeeper on Soldier Island.

Along with performing, Anna enjoys board games, sci-fi and fantasy TV/film and attending rock gigs. She also hopes to return to another of her university pastimes in the near future... skydiving!

Gavin Costigan is Justice Lawrence Wargrave

Gavin’s first public performance in 1972 received mixed reviews from the critics.

Some thought that a loud solo rendition of “Baa Baa Black Sheep” may not have been entirely appropriate for a Nativity play – and perhaps even less so since he was in the audience.

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Gavin Costigan

His acting skills have progressed since then, although sadly his singing is much the same. He has appeared in a variety of shows for different groups, and before the current production his favourite part was Charles Condomine in BLITHE SPIRIT.

Gavin is returning to the stage after a break from acting due a combination of work and children – but both of these are now somewhat more under control. His Wargrave is watchful and controlling. When not acting or trying to earn a living, he writes poetry, drinks whisky and walks up Scottish mountains, though not all at once.

Hannah Harrison plays Dr Elizabeth Armstrong

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Hannah Harrison

Hannah likes to think that her revolutionary gender swap makes her the TRUE first female Doctor!

She trained as a professional actress at the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts alongside fellow cast member Jess Capes. After following her friend of six years to Southampton, Hannah decided that she had to go one step further and join SUP – to further annoy Jess with her constant company.

Hannah is also an avid snow globe collector and has a thing for pineapple shaped objects. Her Dr. Armstrong is a joy to behold.

Alex Mawers is Anthony Marston

Alex is a qualified accountant working at Southampton General Hospital. As his amoral playboy character in the show says – repeatedly and annoyingly – he’s a “triffic!” addition to the team.

He’s only just returned to acting and this will be his first stage performance since his GCSE performance of Alice in Wonderland in 2010!

Although not seen on stage with SUP yet, Alex did appear as the Inspector’s assistant at two SUP Murder Mystery Dinners in 2018.

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Alex Mawers

Jess Capes plays Vera Claythorne

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Jess Capes

Jess trained at drama school with fellow cast mate Hannah.

She is very excited to be tackling this role alongside an amazing cast: if rehearsals are anything to go by, her performance in the climax of the play will have audiences on the edges of their seats.

Jess used to compete in ice skating, loves her brass music and once owned 13 gerbils!

Please remember to tell your friends, family and colleagues about the show – and don’t forget to book


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

ATTWN

 

 

 

 

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

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Ten Little Soldiers

Christie on Campus #5

Christie on Campus #5

ATTWN1953: the good, the bad and the plain ugly

Guest blogger Stephen Fenerty – who is playing William Henry Blore in SUP’s new production of Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE – reflects on the year this version is set

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE is Christie’s bestselling novel, clocking up sales of more than 100 million copies worldwide.

Our production of this “masterpiece of suspense” takes place in 1953: the choice of our director, Paul Green.

The book itself was first published in 1939, when the Second World War was already under way. Christie wrote her play version in 1943, with hostilities still raging.

The story goes that at her agent’s urging, she changed the ending to a somewhat ‘softer’ and happier outcome, so as not to affect morale during wartime.

I’m pleased to report that SUP has reinstated her original 1939 ending from the book, using Christie’s original dialogue.

Anyway, in the original story, the action takes place some time in the late 1930s. Shifting it to 1953 means we retain that all-important vintage feel while also giving the story an ever-so-slightly more modern, post-war look.

TVcoronationIn the UK, the biggest event in 1953 was undoubtedly the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, which was televised.

This was the first time many people had seen a television, and sales of the new-fangled device skyrocketed. It actually poured with rain on Coronation day – which, in our version, takes place just eight weeks before the murderous events on Soldier Island.

everestThe other momentous event of 1953 – famously announced in The Times newspaper on the same day as the Coronation – was the conquest of Mount Everest by a British expedition led by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.

Wartime rationing was only just coming to an end in 1953, a full eight years after the close of the war. In particular, petrol rationing ends at the beginning of February (as well as sweet rationing). This leads to a huge influx of cars onto Britain’s pre-motorway road network.

The end of rationing also means clothes and fashions are changing. Younger women favour a more ‘relaxed’ waistline, and so-called ‘pancake’ make-up becomes the norm.

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Teddy boys

While swearing in public places is still an offence, youth culture linked to rock and roll music is starting to emerge with a vengeance, first in London before fanning out across the country.

1953 sees the Daily Express coin the name ‘Teddy Boy’ – Teddy being a shortening of Edwardian. Members of the Ted subculture were originally known as ‘Cosh Boys’.

So what of the plain ugly? The year starts darkly with the hanging of Derek Bentley for his part in the murder of PC Sidney Miles, in the notorious “Let him have it” case.

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Atomic test, USA, 1953

In America, meanwhile, President Truman announces that the US has developed the hydrogen bomb, with nuclear testing in Nevada in the spring and summer.

At the same time as the Cold War is hotting up, UFO sightings are on the increase.

At the end of January 1953, the North Sea flood kills more than 2,000 people in the Netherlands and on the east coast of Britain. Queen Mary dies in her sleep in March, with Joseph Stalin dying the same month.

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John Christie arrives at court to be sentenced

The 10 Rillington Place murders are uncovered in March, with another Christie – John Reginald Halliday Christie – hanged for those grisly crimes just three weeks before the houseguests gather on Soldier Island.

That same week, the BBC airs the first episode of a groundbreaking sci-fi suspense serial Quatermass, while US spies Julian and Ethel Rosenberg are executed at Sing Sing Prison in New York.

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Piccadilly Circus, London – 1950s

With the Korean War officially ending, the Soviet prime minister announces – the same day as our characters arrive on Soldier Island – that the Soviet Union also has the hydrogen bomb. The country detonates its first thermonuclear weapon “Joe 4” a few days later.

This is the febrile atmosphere that forms the backdrop to SUP’s new production of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE.

It’s hardly any wonder that fear, suspicion and paranoia are the order of the day.

ryeBy the way, in 1953, Agatha herself – now aged 63 – is still working hard. That year sees her publish both a Hercule Poirot novel, After the Funeral, and a Miss Marple novel, A Pocket Full of Rye – another nursery rhyme reference, in this case ‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’, and again featuring cyanide.

To give you an idea of Christie’s longevity and enduring popularity, the year before saw the premiere of her play The Mousetrap in November 1952 – and 66 years later it’s still running in London’s West End.

However, you have an opportunity in just a few weeks to see her masterwork of suspense live and kicking, onstage in Southampton…


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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