Grand takes on Agatha Christie’s chilling mystery



On a recent chilly day, the cast of The Grand’s “And Then There Were None” gathered at Lamoine Beach to recreate the feel of being on an island.

ELLSWORTH — Director Robin Jones has a specific vision of the effect he wants the Agatha Christie mystery “And Then There Were None” to have on audiences when they see the production over the next two weekends at The Grand.

“I don’t want people going out of here saying, ‘Oh, that was delightful,’” he said. “I want people walking out of the play needing medication, or having to go to Airline Brewing or Finn’s to have a shot before they go home.”

The intent, in a nutshell, is to put the audience in the shoes of the characters on stage and leave the viewers feeling the same fear and foreboding that the characters do.

The book “And Then There Were None” has sold tens of millions of copies, many of them with covers hinting at the book’s dark and deadly story line.

“And Then There Were None” will be presented at The Grand Friday, March 17, through Sunday, March 19, and again the following weekend (the 24th through the 26th), with shows at 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. Ticket prices are $20 for adults and seniors, $18 for Grand members and $12 for students (age 15 and under).

The play is based on Christie’s book of the same title, first published in 1939. It tells the tale of 10 people who are convinced, by different means, to come to an island mansion off the coast of England “for what each of them thinks is going to be a weekend party of some sort,” Jones explained.

The reality turns out to be something altogether different.

“None of them have any idea they’re going to be stranded there and afraid for their lives for the next two to three days,” said Jones.

As described in a summary on agathachristie.com, the first night the guests are there a record begins to play at dinner “and the voice of an unseen host accuses each person of hiding a guilty secret.” That same night, one of the guests is found dead, murdered by the use of a deadly dose of cyanide.

“The tension escalates as the survivors realize the killer is not only among them but is preparing to strike again,” the summary explains. “And again…”

The guests also begin to realize there is a dark parallel to a nursery rhyme about 10 little soldiers who die one at a time. The book and play both take their title from the last line of that rhyme. A troop of 10 toy soldiers displayed in the home where the guests are staying serves as a sort of mortality meter for the island’s inhabitants.

“And Then There Were None” is the most successful of Christie’s more than five dozen mystery novels, holding the title of the world’s best-selling mystery with approximately 100 million copies sold. In 2015, on the 125th anniversary of Christie’s birth, readers around the world voted the book their favorite of her many publications.

“What really got me excited about this,” said Jones, “is that if you look at horror movies, like ‘Seven’ or movies where people are isolated in a house and being knocked off one by one, this is the grandmother of all of those.”

Ellsworth student Emma Henry produced the poster for The Grand’s production of “And Then There Were None,” drawing from the nursery rhyme about 10 little soldiers that is so central to the play’s plot.

“And Then There Were None” is a fitting choice for The Grand’s latest locally produced live stage production. Though there have been a number of those in recent years, including “Mary Poppins,” “Spamalot” and “The Producers,” there had been something of a drought before that.

Prior to “Spamalot” in 2014, the last local play produced on the stage was Christie’s “Witness for the Prosecution” in 2007. Several cast members in “And Then There Were None” also starred in that show a decade ago, including Patrick Harris, Roland Dube, Will Stephenson and Michael Weinstein.

Weinstein, a Dedham resident, said performing in one of the plays based on Christie’s works is always a fun experience, and he believes those who come to see it will enjoy it and find it engaging, too.

“I think it will keep the audience wondering who’s behind all of this to the end,” he said. In this production, Weinstein’s role is that of a judge, Sir Lawrence Wargrave.

An Ellsworth resident, Stephenson plays Dr. Armstrong, whom he describes as “being highly nervous for a nerve specialist.” Stephenson said his character is always worried about what may be coming next, but that he is most relaxed when he is called upon to do the things that doctors do.

Stephenson is returning to the stage after a hiatus, as is Annie Poole, who plays Emily Brent. Poole, from Brooksville, describes her character as beyond reproach, very judgmental and holding to the moral high ground.

Newcomers to The Grand’s stage include Nathanael Lee (as Philip Lombard), who production and stage manager Kim Fitch recounted learned his lines in the span of about one week between his audition and the first read-through, and Zabet Neu Collins (in the role of Mrs. Rogers).

“She came out on a whim and she’s been terrific,” Jones said.

Bob Daisey plays military veteran General Mackenzie, and the director said his vocal performance alone lends gravitas to the play.

“He’s got a voice like Walter Cronkite,” said Jones of Daisey. “He’s the voice of authority.”

Fitch described the cast as “incredible,” and Jones agreed that they are a great group of actors to work with. He said the cast is “on exactly the same page” with wanting to make it a successful but also suspenseful production, and he believes that will shape how the audience experiences the play.

“You’re really paying attention to how excruciating it must be to be in that situation,” he said, of the guests invited to the island and realizing that something is terribly, terribly wrong.

While there is humor in the play, the funny lines will be overshadowed by the dark nature of the storyline if Jones and his cast can get audience members to react the way he hopes they will.

“They should come in knowing that it’s going to be entertaining, but that if we’d put it on at Halloween, that wouldn’t have been a mistake,” he said. “I really want people creeped out by this show.”

“And Then There Were None”

When: Friday, March 17, through Sunday, March 19, and Friday, March 24, through Sunday, March 26. Friday and Saturday shows at 7 p.m., Sunday shows at 2 p.m.

Where: The Grand, 165 Main St. in Ellsworth

Tickets: $20 for adults/seniors, $18 for Grand members and $12 for students (age 15 and under).

Contact: 667-9500, visit www.grandonline.org or follow The Grand on Facebook.

Who’s who?

Producers of The Grand’s upcoming production of “And Then There Were None” report that the Agatha Christie hit mystery features “some of the best local talent to perform in a great stage play” and a mix of Grand veterans and newcomers.

The actors (and the characters they portray), in order of appearance are as follows:

Patrick Harris (Rogers), Zabet Neu Collins (Mrs. Rogers), Tom Thompson (Fred Narracott), Nina Robinson-Poole (Very Claythorne), Nathanael Lee (Philip Lombard), Patrick Molloy (Anthony Marston), Roland Dube (William Blore), Bob Daisey (General Mackenzie), Annie Poole (Emily Brent), Michael Weinstein (Sir Lawrence Wargrave) and Will Stephenson (Dr. Armstrong).

The production team consists of Robin Jones (director), Kimberly Fitch (production/stage manager), Garrett Harris (sound tech), Peter Miller (set design), Elizabeth Braley (costume design), Joe Lewis (lighting design) and Stacey White (props direction).

Steve Fuller

Steve Fuller

Reporter at The Ellsworth American,
Steve Fuller has worked at The Ellsworth American since 2012. He covers the city of Ellsworth, including the Ellsworth School Department and the city police beat, as well as the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Great Pond, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham. A native of Waldo County, he served as editor of Belfast's Republican Journal prior to joining the American. He lives in Orland. [email protected]