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

ATTWN

 

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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 #4

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Ten Little Soldiers

Meet the suspects/meet the victims

Part 2

The second and final part of our guide to the mysterious house guests on Soldier Island in Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE – at NST Campus (Nuffield) Southampton from 23-26 January 2019 – you can book here

#ChristieOnCampus

In order of appearance continued – you’ll have to see the play for the order of disappearance

‘Mr Davis’ – Stephen Fenerty

This well-built and extremely bullish middle-aged house guest isn’t what he seems from the moment he steps foot on the island. Is he a South African millionaire as he claims or something else altogether: a “bit of a bad hat” with a history of corruption.

General MackenzieChris Aland

The oldest of the house guests, the General’s glory days are long behind him. Expecting a short holiday with Army chums, Mackenzie can be vague and detached: he misses his late wife terribly and appears guilt-ridden about a terrible choice that he once made…

Emily Brent Alison Wells

Rigid, ruthless and extremely religious, Miss Brent doesn’t suffer fools (or anyone) gladly. Although she reads the Bible every day, she lacks basic humanity – and refuses to take any responsibility for the tragic suicide of a young servant girl in her employ.

Judge Lawrence Wargrave Gavin Costigan

A retired judge, Justice Wargrave is intelligent and watchful, with an air of natural authority and commanding manner that mark him out as a natural leader. Could this man of the law have really sent an innocent man to the gallows?

Dr Armstrong – Hannah Harrison

A successful medical practitioner in the man’s world of 1950’s medicine, Elizabeth Armstrong has built a lucrative Harley Street practice as an in-demand nerve specialist. Her no-nonsense exterior may not be all it seems: did her respectability and success come at a price?


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 available.

You can book your tickets here

ATTWN

Christie on Campus #2

Meet the suspects/meet the victims

Part 1

Your guide to the mysterious house guests on Soldier Island in Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE – at NST Campus Southampton from 23-26 January 2019

In order of appearance – you’ll have to see the play for the order of disappearance

Mr Rogers – Jonathan Shepherd

An upright and dignified Devon man, Rogers the butler is a “proper servant” in every sense. But do he and his wife harbour a dark secret from a previous employer? It’s strange they only arrived on Soldier Island a few days before the rest of the house guests assembled…

Mrs RogersAnna Hussey

Capable housekeeper and loyal wife, Mrs Rogers is also unafraid to take the odd swipe at her husband and is quick to complain about the gaggle of incoming guests she has to cook and clean for, and with her mistress nowhere to be seen. Is she as frail as she appears?

Captain Philip Lombard Paul Cresser

Confident and resourceful, Lombard’s mysterious past includes time spent as a soldier. Do his boldness, cunning and easy charm mask something altogether more sinister? Lombard is instantly and vocally attracted to Vera, before events take a turn for the worst…

Vera Claythorne Jess Capes

A former governess employed as Secretary to the mistress of Soldier Island, Vera is trying to escape a dark event from her past… Intelligent, alert and emotional, she quickly embarks on a sparky and flirtatious relationship with Captain Lombard.

Anthony Marston – Alex Mawers

This young, dashing, amoral playboy likes fast cars and flirting with the ladies. Once he arrives – having driven at break-neck speed from London and nearly running over Dr Armstrong in the process – he sets his sights on Vera and quickly pokes fun at Captain Lombard…


Please follow our  progress in future blogs. Remember to tell your friends, family and colleagues about the show – and don’t forget to book early to get the seats you want.


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 available.

You can book your tickets here

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Christie on Campus #1

Welcome to suspicion, fear, paranoia and ‘get to know you’ games

Kicking off our latest series of production blogs, Paul Green is our first victim: a director and actor with a long and impressive theatrical CV, he also has some distinctly sinister plans to bump off cast members

This being my first show for SUP, I wanted to get to know the cast, and to help cast who were members new to the company to get to know the more established SUP players. The cast for AND THEN THERE WERE NONE includes performers who joined SUP in the last few months working alongside more longstanding members – it’s a 50/50 split, really, between “old” and “new”. And of course, I’m a relatively new member of the team myself. 

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Paul Green is directing Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE for SUP Theatre Company

To me, simply starting rehearsals “cold” can throw everybody slightly, so we started the entire process with a four-hour session of exercises, on a Sunday, to get to know each other. This was, in part, about developing trust and team-working among the company members.

The first exercise, the “Name Game” – which we still play at the start of every rehearsal session – has a number of purposes. It’s for everyone to learn everybody else’s real name as well as their character name, to get them used to establishing eye contact, and getting them used to doing and thinking three things at once (which is, as I keep telling them, the basis of acting). If you can imagine mentally patting your head and rubbing your stomach and reciting the alphabet all at the same time, you get the idea. The cast has embraced this after persevering and the determination shown has been impressive. Much hilarity is also derived from identifying who is establishing eye contact and where you should walk and to whom (it takes too long to explain, but you should play it some time).

I also introduced the cast to “Flying”, which is pretty much as it sounds. Only one intrepid cast member did it to begin with, but after seeing what it entails, everyone took part, with one or two people still having to be convinced. You’ll see some pictures here.

We then played a game known as “Killer” or “Wink Murder” to introduce the cast to the feelings of paranoia and suspicion that I’ll be foregrounding in our production. In this game, one person is secretly chosen as the murderer and winks at their victims when no-one is looking. The victim then “dies” as spectacularly as possible in a way that also misdirects. So, as you can imagine if you know any members of this cast, the “spectacular death” aspect was really underplayed (the longest death scene was timed at more than two minutes). The more you play it, the more extreme the deaths are, and the more paranoid everyone becomes… precisely what I was aiming for.

Of course, we got through far more than just these games on the day, with everyone throwing themselves into the activities wholeheartedly – and we had a lot of fun while working hard to build a strong basis for teamwork and the underlying themes of the production.

Please follow our continued progress in future blogs from various people and different directions and of course, please remember to tell your friends, family and colleagues about the show – and don’t forget to book early 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 available.

You can book your tickets here

ATTWN

Two Murderous Comedies

It’s a wrap

This week’s guest blogger is Stephen Fenerty, SUP co-chair. He reflects on the performance nights for our October one-act plays – and on a great audience reaction

First and foremost, a huge thank you to our wonderful audiences. 70-plus people enjoyed the Friday night double-bill, with that number swelling to more than 90 on the Saturday – which meant we were almost at capacity in the Rose Theatre and, more importantly, ensuring a great audience response for our casts.

And what a group of performers! 13 actors and actresses across the two plays, with more than half appearing in their first productions for SUP. And everybody did us proud, so a big thank you to our wonderful casts. Here’s a slide show, from rehearsals to get-in, show nights and after-show party…

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In the four-handed 1920’s murder mystery spoof A JOLLY SINISTER JAPE, the daft gags, double entendre and fast pace had the audience laughing and groaning in equal measure. The cast – experienced SUP hands Kerrie Brady and Naomi Scott alongside new members Martin ‘Timber’ Kelly and Michele Zadra – delivered Elliot Strange’s script with aplomb.

With the Rose Theatre at Barton Peveril College providing a bar for the first time, our audiences refreshed themselves at the interval before returning to their seats for THE REAL INSPECTOR HOUND by Tom Stoppard.

The longer of the two plays – 65 minutes compared to 35 minutes for the first half – this had the audience in stitches with its smart blend of satire, word play and slapstick, with excellent surreal performances and comic turns from an ensemble cast: Nick Hayward and Tim Ellwood, Paul Jones, Sarah Fergusson, Lee Barden, Jake Williams, Meg Britton, Carolina Scott, and not forgetting Andrew Clarke as the most convincing corpse on an SUP stage since Sophia in Dirk Gently.

Special thanks, of course, go to our brilliant behind-the-scenes team and tech crew, who make it all happen, including directors David Green and Kevin Bowers, along with Duncan Lang, Clayton Peters, Steve Town, Olly Trojak, John Peters and others. Thanks for all your help and continued support: we couldn’t do it without you!

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Lady Stoppard, Sabrina Guinness, with the SUP secretary and co-chairs

We were also delighted on the Friday night to welcome Lady Stoppard, Sabrina Guinness. While she’d read THE REAL INSPECTOR HOUND she had never seen it performed – and said she enjoyed the show hugely. Sir Tom, who couldn’t attend because he’s currently immersed in writing a new play, sent a handwritten ‘good luck’ message to cast and crew.

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A sneak preview of our next production: the Ten Little Soldiers themselves. Click here to book for Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE

When we plan and perform these one-acts, in addition to our ‘usual’ annual cycle of Totton Festival and January production at NST Campus, our objective is to provide more opportunities for SUP members to get involved, especially our new members, and to give audiences more opportunities to see our work.

There are obviously costs associated with putting on a show: licensing for the scripts (per night) plus set, costumes, props, van hire, and of course venue hire – the latter tending to be the main budget item. While we always try to “beg and borrow” wherever possible, using items for low or no cost, some of these costs are fixed. And there’s always a risk we may lose money on a production: you can never really tell if you’re going to attract an audience, despite your best marketing efforts and word-of-mouth.

Our objective is to at least break even, because it means we’re not eating into our reserves – but making a little profit is always great news, as it means we can carry on what we’re doing and provide even more opportunities.

I’m happy to report that while the final “profit and loss” accounts are still being finalised, it appears we have made a small profit on our Two Murderous Comedies. So thank you, once again, to all cast, crew and others at SUP who make it all possible – and, of course, to our audiences.

We hope to see you all at NST Campus 23-26 January 2019 for what promises to a rip-roaring production: Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE – with tickets from just £10

CLICK HERE TO BOOK

ATTWN

It’s Murder – Take Two

It’s Murder – Take Two

Great Scott!

This week’s blog is from a real diva… famed actress Ophelia La Bobo (aka real-life SUP performer Naomi Scott) who finds herself tangled up in A Jolly Sinister Jape

My public want to hear from me? Well, I suppose that that’s no surprise. After all, I am the famous Ophelia La Bobo. You’ve probably seen me in films such as ‘The Attack of the Killer Jelly’. And of course I have another one just around the corner. I can’t wait to start work on ‘The Curse of the Human Dung Beetle’.

Working in film is so thrilling. The lights… the people… the fame! And my characters get to have such marvellous adventures.

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I’m an adventurer at heart – so long as I don’t get muddy or break a nail.

Can you believe that some people actually go to far-off lands where they traipse through forests and mountains, sleeping outside and drinking from rivers? How ghastly! Some even jump out of aeroplanes! How silly.

But it’s true that I yearn for more excitement. It’s not my husband Biffy’s fault that he’s such a bore. But of all the men that I could have married, I really would have imagined someone more interesting – perhaps with an exotic accent?

Oh, the show? Well, it’s a bit of a step backwards appearing in theatre rather than on the silver screen, of course, but it’s good for one to remember one’s roots. And of course I know that my public will appreciate being able to see me in the flesh. The Rose Theatre, you say? Where’s that? Eastleigh? Never heard of it. No matter. I’m sure that it will be positively ripping!


You can see Naomi in person as Ophelia in A JOLLY SINISTER JAPE –  on a double bill with THE REAL INSPECTOR HOUND at Eastleigh’s Rose Theatre, 19th-20th October 2018. Tickets are only £11 standard and £9.50 concessions – with no booking fees payable. Click here to book tickets

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