Kira Lace Hawkins is Vera Claythorne in the murder mystery ‘And Then There Were None,’ at the Wagon Wheel Theatre through Aug. 9. Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union.
Kira Lace Hawkins is Vera Claythorne in the murder mystery ‘And Then There Were None,’ at the Wagon Wheel Theatre through Aug. 9. Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union.
Since “And Then There Were None” is a murder mystery, Wagon Wheel Theatre actors Kira Lace Hawkins and Matthew Janisse didn’t want to give away too much during an interview Monday afternoon.
Hawkins plays Vera Claythorne, with Janisse taking on the role of Phillip Lombard. The show is at the theater until Aug. 9.
The play is based on the Agatha Christie book “Ten Little Indians.” Christie also wrote the play.
“The premise is that there is Mr. and Mrs. Owen and they own this house on Soldier Island that is completely surrounded by water, and 10 people end up coming to the house. And so two of them are hired to be the butler and the cook, and then I’m hired to be the secretary. The other seven are simply guests,” Hawkins explained. “Throughout the evening we find out we’ve been invited there for various reasons. There’s a really interesting hook that got each person there to the island. That’s something that’s revealed throughout the play.”
Janisse added, “What I think is really interesting is that it’s not exactly the same as the book. So even if you’ve read the book and think you know what’s going to happen in the play ... it has a different ending.”
Hawkins said the characters also are a bit different.
“(Claythorne) has been hired to be the secretary to Mrs. Owen, who owns the house that we are going to,” Hawkins said. “I think something that’s really fun though is that if you are a fan of Agatha Christie, you can really see she’s such an amazing craftsman with her books. And you can really see the changes she made in the play,” she said.
Janisse teased that Lombard is a captain who “comes to the house for some reason I don’t want to give away.”
Some people may see a murder mystery and think it may be poorly written or uninteresting.
“We’re learning that (Christie) really introduces things at the vital moment for us to maybe suspect somebody, then something else will happen. She’s really smart in her adaptation of her own book,” Hawkins said.
The book was written in 1939 and the play originally produced in 1943. Hawkins said the time period for the Wagon Wheel production is the late 1940s, after World War II.
“I think that may be just because our designers really like that era,” she joked. “It still works.”
There is a significance of why 10 people are invited to the island, but the actors again were hesitant to spill too much information.
“I don’t think we should say that,” Hawkins said.
“No?” Janisse asked.
“There’s a significance,” Hawkins answered.
“OK. There’s a significance,” Janisse agreed, playing along.
“That’s a fun discovery to play, you know?” Hawkins said.
“That’s going to be a lot of this interview: ‘What’s that question? No, I’m not going to answer that. No,’” Janisse said with a laugh.
The two veteran WWT actors were willing to give a little detail about Claythorne and Lombard’s relationship in the play.
Janisse said, “For our relationship, when you start off, everyone is introduced, each character is introduced. We are introduced together, not as a pair but as individuals who sort of have a little kinship, a little flirty flirt. But, of course, with every relationship in the play it’s always changing because there comes the point where you’re questioning who they are and why they do certain things. There’s an abundance of different archetypes of characters.”
Those characters include a policeman, an old judge, a retired general, a very bitter religious old lady and the crass butler.
Christie invented the genre of the murder mystery with “Ten Little Indians” and the play, according to Hawkins. Even the board game “Clue” came about because of Christie’s influence.”
“There wasn’t any murder mysteries until she created and started writing in this way,” Janisse said.
“I can’t say I’m well versed in the genre but like Matthew said, she really did pioneer this and found it was really popular. Then with her play ‘The Mouse Trap,’ which is still the longest-running play in England ... she found out how wildly popular they are with audiences as well, not just her readers. It’s really inspiring and that she was a woman in that time period. That’s really cool, too,” Hawkins said.
Throughout “And Then There Were None,” Janisse said audiences will think they have the mystery figured out multiple times, only to change their mind minutes later.
“Right until the very end, I think you won’t know who it is until you see them,” he said.
Hawkins had read the novel before getting the script, but she didn’t know whether the script would end the same way as the book or not because of the changes made to the play.
“I didn’t read the book, I just read the play, and I went, ‘REALLY?’” Janisse stated. “‘Whoa!’”
“It’s a surprise,” Hawkins agreed.
“It’s tricky,” Janisse said.
The play wasn’t his first introduction to Christie’s work, however, as he was set to play the butler in a production of “The Mouse Trap” that “didn’t go through,” he said.
“So I knew the sort of style of the murder mystery and what, exactly, what it is. Because another great thing about these type of shows is you’re introduced to 10 characters, and as the play goes on you slowly get to know them more – but as soon as you get to know them, they kind of disappear because they die!” Janisse excitedly explained.
He said it’s an interesting journey for an audience to get to see 10 people and get invested in their story. Then as they each start to be killed off, the audience gets invested in the survivors and start wondering who will live.
The WWT play is directed by guest director Andy Robinson, along with Ben Dicke, who came in at the tail end of the rehearsal process.
“It’s been really fun. He’s added a fresh breath of air late in our rehearsal process and we’re kind of elevated to a new level because of that. It’s been fun,” Hawkins said.
In concluding the interview, Janisse suggested, “Keep your eyes open. Watch everyone, suspect everyone.”
“You never know what’s going to happen,” Hawkins said with a mischievous laugh.
For the video of the full interview, visit the free video section at www.timesuniononline.com
Tickets range from $15 to $34. Discounts are available for college students and seniors on designated performances. For more information or to purchase your tickets, visit www.wagonwheeltheatre.org or call the box office at 574-267-8041.