Actors tackle the challenges of a British accent, and another “bounces off the walls” when in character.
One by one, guests at a spooky English mansion are being killed.
That’s the basic plot of “And Then There Were None,” the archetypal murder mystery by Agatha Christie, which the Oxford Hills Music and Performing Arts Association will present April 27-May 7 in Norway.
“It’s fun because the writing is superb,” said director Tom Littlefield. “It has well-defined characters and a tightly drawn plot. It is a classic, a fine example of the â€˜it-was-a-dark-and-stormy-night’ type of play.”
The story revolves around a variety of guests, unknown to each other, who have been invited to a large mansion situated high on a cliff on an island off the coast of Devon. No one has ever met the host or the butler, the boatman or the housekeeper.
When the weather turns stormy, they are all marooned.
To make matters worse, the 10 little statues of toy soldiers prominently displayed on the fireplace are tied to a growing list of murder victims. A child’s nursery rhyme tells how each soldier boy meets his death, and as each statue mysteriously falls, another guest is murdered.
Despite the serious nature of the play, rehearsals have been full of good conversation and lots of laughs, Littlefield said. For example, Cynthia Reedy, whose roles are usually in comedies and bright sunny musicals, is enjoying her role as Emily Brent, an extremely unpleasant woman.
“I’d like to think it is a stretch, but it isn’t,” Reedy quipped.
Dennis Twitchell portrays Fred Narracott and Scott Maddix plays Rogers. Both roles require British accents, but recently the two actors were spending double time rehearsing French accents for the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School/community Broadway musical “Carnival” set in France, which was performed in early April.
“Here I am with my truly Maine way of speaking,” said Twitchell. “Trying to put one dialect in my speech is a job within itself, let alone a second one. As long as I don’t mix the French character speaking Cockney and the English character speaking French, I will be all right.”
Robin Galley, cast as Vera Claythorne, and Matt Delamater, as Phillip Lombard, also have enjoyed developing believable English accents. They frequently called on experts Rachael Leighton (who portrays Mrs. Rogers) and Andy Mills (playing Anthony Marston) for help. Leighton is credited with an uncanny ear for dialects. Mills’ mother is British, and he grew up mimicking her speech.
Elton Cole, who plays Dr. Armstrong, and Steve Sessions, who plays William Blore, are perennial OHMPAA favorites noted for their sense of humor and repartee. Sessions joked that he likes his role in this show because, once again, he can eat and drink as he did in “The Odd Couple.” “Elton and I, who do that so well off stage, can bring those essential skills to the stage,” he said.
For Bill Miller, who portrays General MacKenzie, it’s a chance to step out in a first production without his young son James. Both have appeared together in three recent shows.
Tim Lorrain, who plays Sir Lawrence Wargrave, is new to OHMPAA. “This guy just shines,” said Littlefield of Lorrain, a veteran of Lake Region Community Theatre shows.
Littlefield also noted that Mills is putting a lot into the role of Anthony Marston, a hyperactive person with ADD (attention deficit disorder) characteristics.
“Andy is supposed to give it a sort of bizarre flavor, and he’s bringing it off beautifully,” Littlefield said. “His character is unable to focus on anything, and Andy is just bouncing off the walls.”
Littlefield also noted the challenges of the set and lighting on the Norway Grange Hall stage. He said a power failure caused by the storm occurs part way through the show.
“The play moves on in candlelight, and we really want to create the effect of darkness,” he said.
Disappointed with previous adaptations of her novels, Christie adapted her own book for the stage in 1943. She decided that the staging of a play required the survival of two characters. Consequently, the resolution of the play is very different from that of the book (though the identity of the killer remains the same).
The play follows a humorous tone and upbeat ending, compared with the book’s distinctly dark tone.