Agatha Christie’s most popular book and the best selling crime novel of all time And Then There Were None

came to the Theatre Royal for an atmospheric production the Queen of Crime would have been proud of.

The inspiration for the location is an Art Deco hotel on Burgh Island off south Devon which she has moved further off shore to make a remote location in a minimalist setting.

A bare set provides a challenge to director Lucy Bailey, but she rises to it by getting the best out of characters as they are forced to face their inner demons, cut-off on the island as strangers lured by a mystery host for their own dark reasons which only become clear at the very end when the single killer is unveiled.

To say who the mystery ‘host’ is would give the game away, but suffice to say it kept me and my companion guessing to the last minute which ends with a shooting and a very realistic grisly hanging, as the drama concludes with everyone of the staff and guests dead - killed by some imaginative means.

The plot is complex because it encompasses the backgrounds of the guests and staff who all have reason to feel guilty or at least have a dark secret which they have buried.  It appears the guests and two staff are responsible for the death of others, either in their professional or personal lives in different  circumstances, but were not punished. So, it soon becomes obvious they will be made to pay - but by who and why the perpetrator, is the big question.

There are some parallels with the modern world. It is set between the World Wars and some of the characters have WW1 and battle links, while Hitler’s threat is growing.  Christie uses this sense of past horror and coming dread to underline the sense of isolation and sense of doom as the characters face their deaths trapped on the island.  The atmosphere is overwhelming and the situation has parallels in the current post-pandemic recovery which has been set back by economic and conflict uncertainties , followed by the climate crisis - with Soldier Island the world in microcosm

On a personal level the characters own conflicts are those of guilt, love, justice and self-justification. The bleak conclusion is that human beings cannot stop killing each and are always finding new excuses for doing so.

Amid the whodunnit drama there is unexpected black humour, most of it shared between the former cop played by Andrew Lance and the increasingly inebriated housekeeper  (Lucy Tregear). With no central detective type character such as Miss Marple or Poirot, there is no cast focus and no ‘good’ character, though there is a burgeoning love interest between soldier (Joseph Beattie) and former teacher (Sophie Walter) to lighten the despairing mood.  If anyone holds the large cast together it is the judge (David Yelland) who has a sense of moral authority - but not all is what is seems.  Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None is at the Theatre Royal until Saturday (March 16).