Killer instincts

Killer instincts

A Hong Kong drama group brings an Agatha Christie classic to the stage - but with a Chinese twist

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The cast of And Then There Were None, from the Class 7A Drama Group Limited.
The cast of And Then There Were None, from the Class 7A Drama Group Limited.
Photos: Edward Wong, Henry Wong
Everybody loves a good crime story. It's the idea of playing detective for a day - without ending up within a line of white chalk.

But writing mystery novels takes skill and an ability to tell a whodunnit, hooking the reader with red herrings and creating a number of scenarios.

British writer Agatha Christie was a master of the genre.

She's written more than 80 detective novels - and more in other genres - making her the best-selling novelist of all time. But one book in her prolific career has garnered more fanfare, adaptations and reworks than any other: And Then There Were None.

Class 7A Drama Group Limited is the latest to stage a production of this classic Christie work, again. In 2003 they adapted the story for the stage. "I discovered Agatha Christie in secondary school," says Leung Shing-him, the playwright and director of the production.

"I borrowed the books from the library. It had a lot of her novels - in fact, an entire shelf devoted to her - and they're usually in high demand. There're more Christie books than Sherlock Holmes books."

And Then There Were None has been shrouded in controversy since it was first published in 1939. The original title used a derogatory term for blacks and it was subsequently renamed. The latter title is taken from the final line of an ominous nursery rhyme in the story.

The plot revolves around 10 people who are invited to a remote island. One by one they are killed off, with each death paralleling a line from the nursery rhyme.

Each couplet ends with "and then there were", followed by a number in descending order, until the final line, "and then there were none".

The killer is presumed to be one of the 10 and the story dissolves into finger-pointing hysteria.

Leung's adaptation follows the general outline of the original, but he adds Chinese themes to make it more appealing to local audiences.

"I did more than just change the names and setting to Chinese ones," he says. "I took the original story and modernised it - it's been almost a century since the original was published and a lot has changed since then. I also wanted to give it a unique Chinese flavour."

Leung rewrote about 70 to 80 per cent of the story for the production. He worked Chinese themes into the story - and the poster for the production is done in Chinese propaganda style. "I used themes of civil disobedience, relationships and torture and built on it from there."

One of the more significant changes is the ending. Leung is reluctant to reveal too much, saying only that it will be unpredictable.

"There are a lot of different versions [of the story] and they all have different endings," he says. "In the original, they all die. In the Hollywood film [made in 1945] - they wanted a happy ending, so the male and female leads survive. With my version, it's a mix between the two. I took my inspiration from both but I think my ending will surprise a lot of people."

And Then There Were None can be seen today at Sha Tin Town Hall and on May 21 and 22 at Tuen Mun Town Hall. Tickets from Urbtix.

In Chinese only.

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