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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 October 2005, 13:26 GMT 14:26 UK
Gory comeback for new Christie play
By Victoria Lindrea
BBC News entertainment reporter

Agatha Christie in 1956
Christie plays have been a staple of UK playhouses for many years
Agatha Christie is making a comeback in London's West End, with a new version of the stage play And Then There Were None at the Gielgud Theatre.

In truth, Christie never went away. Her books, it is claimed, have been outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare, while The Mousetrap, grande dame of the West End and refuge of bemused Japanese tourists, is now in its 53rd year.

But eager to abandon the country house chintz of yesteryear for a more modern image, the company which owns the rights to Christie's estate imposed a four-year moratorium on all new stage productions in 2001.

And Then There Were None, starring Tara Fitzgerald, launches the new-look Christie with rumours of Tarantino-style gore and a macabre twist in the tale.

Director Steven Pimlott admits it is a bloody affair, calling the production - which does away with the stagnant drawing room set of the 1940s - "theatrical and a little bit surreal".

The new play, adapted by Kevin Elyot, sticks closely to the original book, which unlike Christie's own stage adaptation, does not have a happy ending.

"It is definitely a play written for 2005, but with a perspective on 1938."

Steven Pimlott (credit Alastair Muir)
Director Steven Pimlott is a confessed Christie fan

Pimlott, who recently stepped down as joint artistic director of Chichester Festival Theatre, has an eclectic background in directing, which includes opera, Shakespeare and hit musical Bombay Dreams.

But as a self-confessed Christie fan, the new production held a particular attraction.

"I have been an Agatha fan from a very early age," says Pimlott. "When other kids were reading Secret Seven, I was reading Agatha Christie."

"But this story, in particular, always haunted me."

"It is unique in that there is no detective. You don't have the safety net which means that in the end, all the characters go into the library and the murderer is revealed. It is much more dangerous and unexpected."

"But then it is enormously entertaining and very funny in places too."

Christie was a great observer, with a very unsentimental view of human nature
Steven Pimlott

"This is her Hamlet, and like Hamlet it has wonderfully contrasting characters and scenes and a very variegated feel," says the former associate director of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

"I think it is quite genuinely a masterpiece."

While the style may be more fluid and the language less stilted, Kevin Elyot's new play remains faithful to the era in which Christie wrote.

"She specified in the book that events took place on the weekend of 8-11 August 1938, which happened to be the weekend that Hitler mobilised. Coincidence or deliberate? I don't know."

"Her view on war was that it was a no-win business, so it is curious that, on the eve of war, she should write a story where there are no winners."

The director bemoans the lack of thrillers showing in the West End, citing two warhorses, Woman in Black and The Mousetrap, as the lone examples of the genre in London's theatreland.

Graham Crowden and Tara Fitzgerald in rehearsal
Graham Crowden and Tara Fitzgerald lead the ensemble cast

"I love the thriller genre and I think it is a pity there aren't more on the West End. We do them very well, it is part of our heritage."

"What is lovely about directing a thriller is that aspect of right and wrong. The issues are very clear in a thriller. It has to add up - there is no room for indulgence."

"I find it satisfying to see things work out as they should - as opposed to life, where they don't," says Pimlott.

"The good end happily and the bad unhappily. They all happen to be bad in this one, so they all end unhappily."

"But I defy anyone to guess who did it," adds Pimlott. "In a way, it is absolutely obvious who has done it - it could only be one person - and yet, still the penny doesn't drop.

"One very simple clue flaws you," says Pimlott - and he rushes off to rehearse a hanging.

And Then There Were None previews at London's Gielgud Theatre from 14 October. The play opens on 25 October.

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