Agatha Christie, cool?
Well, that’s what her biographer, Laura Thompson, tried to find out after seeing a more modern version of the play AND THEN THERE WERE NONE:
I am again watching And Then There Were None, this time at the Gielgud Theatre, where I am looking down from the dress circle on a rehearsal of a production that opened for preview last week. Although this is a new adaptation, the words being spoken sound very familiar indeed. "I have no doubt we have been invited here by a dangerous homicidal lunatic"; "I say!"
Very little, in a sense, has changed. And yet everything is different; for the wheel of fashion has turned. This version of And Then There Were None positively shimmers with chic. It has a glamorous set designed by Mark Thompson, whose credits include Art and Mamma Mia!. It is directed by Stephen Pimlott, an associate director of the RSC. Its cast has classical actors Gemma Jones and Richard Johnson mingling onstage with John Ramm, one half of the National Theatre of Brent, and beautiful television face Tara Fitzgerald.
Furthermore, the adaptation is by Kevin Elyot, renowned for the play My Night With Reg. Elyot has already brought his sensibility to bear upon Christie by adapting a couple of her books for television; last year, in the ITV series Marple, he notoriously turned the married murderers of Body in the Library into a pair of lipstick lesbians.
All of which can only mean one thing. Agatha Christie has become just a tiny bit cool. Who would have believed it?
Of course, if that’s really the case, it’s a double-edged sword, this newfound coolness:
Shakespeare, and look what people do to him. Nevertheless, her new-found cool can be quite boring, too. The modern sensibility, as exemplified by the lipstick lesbians in Marple – the one that says "we know what Agatha really wanted to say, beneath all her repressed Edwardianism, and bless the old dear we’re going to say it for her" – does her no favours, and misunderstands the nature of her extremely worldly wisdom.
Actually the truth is that she said pretty much what she wanted. And I can’t help wondering if it is not we – beset as we are with our own taboos – who are using her as a means to say some of the "old-style" things that we still secretly want to hear.