Laughing Ourselves to Death

By on 29 September, 2017 in Art, Fun, Sarah Thornton with 1 Comment

“If you will forgive me for being personal — I do not like your face…” -Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie, heralded as “the Queen of Crime,” is one of the most widely read novelists in history. Her sixty-plus books have been translated into hundreds of languages, adapted into plays and films, and continue to have life decades after her death. As the Cloverdale Playhouse prepares to open our production of Christie’s wildly successful mystery And Then There Were None, I find myself thinking about what makes her work so timeless.

We as a culture have an obsession with fear. We rush in droves to the movies to see the latest horror flick. We wait in lines for hours at amusement parks to ride the biggest, fastest roller coasters. We turn off all of the lights and crawl under the covers with a flashlight to hungrily read the next bone-chilling chapter of our favorite Stephen King novel. What is it in our humanity that secretly drives us to watch documentaries about horrible murders or fear-mongering news coverage of a recent tragedy? It is a strange type of entertainment, if you think about it. Why do we like being afraid? What is the attraction?

Science points to the rush of adrenaline we get by being scared which creates a kind of euphoria and excitement. Our hearts beat faster and our skin tingles. We feel alive, even sitting quietly in a dark theater or on the sofa with a tub of popcorn. Seeing a scary movie or play in a safe and controlled space like a theater allows the audience to more freely indulge in the drama. We know deep down that it isn’t real, that the people sitting next to us are experiencing the same goosebumps that we are, and soon the lights will come back up and we will all return to our homes where we don’t have to fear murderers lying in wait to conk us over the head with candlesticks.

Agatha Christie is known for her formula. Her books are logical and well-paced, her characters are obtuse and oftentimes not very likeable. This allows us as the audience to focus on solving the puzzle she is carefully crafting. We try to figure out “whodunit” before she reveals the identity of the hidden villain.  What makes And Then There Were None particularly intriguing is that none of these characters are exempt from suspicion. They are all accused murderers trapped together on an island. They are all capable of dastardly acts, and as the audience begins to learn about each person’s dark past, we begin to form judgements. “If she really did that, she must be the murderer.” “If he has a weapon, it is probably him.” “His former career/her cold demeanor/his drinking problem” all give us supposed clues as we go along. But are we able to empathize with these people? Do they all deserve what’s coming to them? Are we rooting for the true villain to be captured, and justice and order to return, or are we eagerly counting the falling soldier statuettes on the mantel?

And here is where Agatha Christie’s brilliance comes into play again: her characters are funny! The Oscar Wilde-esque dry wit runs rampant in Christie’s writing. The house guests’ detached emotional response to an incredibly dramatic situation keeps us in stitches and almost cushions the blow of the fear. We learn of someone’s gruesome outcome, and immediately we are talking about lunch. So much so, that we overlook their reality: they are all in serious danger. The comedy lulls us into a false sense of security, and soon we forget to be scared. And then … WHAM! That adrenaline pumps back up and the fear takes over. The carefully woven storytelling provides us an emotional rollercoaster, keeps us on our toes, and has us eagerly turning the pages or leaning forward in our seats.

Christie’s novel has a very different ending than her stage adaptation. I won’t give anything away, but it sufficeth to say, each ending represents a different side of Christie’s voice. The Playhouse has decided to embrace both endings, and so we will be alternating the final scene in each performance. We hope to satisfy rollercoaster riding, horror film junkies (or diehard fans of the book) and those whose sensibilities are more drawn to the wit and wonder of it all. And perhaps you will find yourself back at the Playhouse to see the show a second time, to balance things out. Whichever ending you fancy, we look forward to seeing you all on Soldier Island for a frighteningly funny weekend holiday!

Get your tickets for Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None at the Cloverdale Playhouse, running October 12-20.

This show contains violent and disturbing images and is not suitable for younger audiences.

Visit or call the box office at (334)262-1530 for more information.

Sarah Walker Thornton is the Artistic Director of the Cloverdale Playhouse, who walks like a New Yorker and waves like an Alabama girl. She is a product of a Montgomery arts education, with several years of life in NYC thrown in for extra flavor.


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