7

Agatha Christie's famous crime story And Then There Were None was written both as a book and later as a play by Christie herself. However, when adapting her own story for the stage, she made a significant change to the ending, namely ...

Warning: major spoilers follow!

... in the book, every single one of the ten people on the island ends up being killed, even the true mastermind behind it all; while the play has a happier ending, in which Vera Claythorne and Philip Lombard are innocent and manage to escape the island together.

The Wikipedia page for the play (cited to Christie's autobiography, which I didn't find online) says:

She knew the ending would have to be changed as all of the characters die in the book and therefore "I must make two of the characters innocent, to be reunited at the end and come safe out of the ordeal."

In contrast, other stage versions of the story (including one from 1944, only a year after Christie's own play) have preserved the book's dismal ending.

Why did Christie change her play's ending from the novel's? Was she afraid that nobody would like a story in which all the main characters die - and if so, why did such qualms apply to the play more than to the original novel?

  • You may find it informative to read about George Bernard Shaw and the ending of Pygmalion (not an adaptation but also a famously changed ending to a play). I am no expert on Christie, nor do I think an answer by analogy is necessarily appropriate, but it might shed light on why authors do this. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pygmalion_(play) – Peter Jul 4 '17 at 9:08
5

And Then There Were None was originally published in 1939 at the outbreak of World War 2. The author adapted for the stage in 1943 when the war was at its apex.

According to Hilary Strong, CEO of "Agatha Christie Ltd" who manage the rights to the author's work, theatre producers at the time felt that in an atmosphere of such bleakness, there was no appetite for a play with such a bleak ending.

“The play was written just after the war and the theatre came back to her and said we can’t cope with the ending,” says Strong. “People had just had enough of brutality.”

It is interesting to note that she appears to have based the new ending on the fact that the rhyme which inspires the play has two alternative versions. The original uses the ending:

"He went and hanged himself and then there were none."

Whereas the stage version is based on the concluding line:

"He got married and then there were none."

This is mentioned by the author in her autobiography. Here, she gives another reason for the change of ending (emphasis mine).

I thought to myself it would be exciting to see if I could make it into a play. At first sight that seemed impossible, because no one would be left to tell the tale, so I would have to alter it to a certain extent. It seemed to me that I could make a perfectly good play of it by one modification of the original story. I must make two of the characters innocent, to be reunited at the end and come safe out of the ordeal.

This suggests that she was concerned that the "real life" sense of watching people on a stage would feel different to the omniscient, third-person narration of a novel and that audiences would demand a believable scenario for recounting the narrative.

  • "written just after the war"? It came out two years before the war ended. – Rand al'Thor Jul 4 '17 at 14:14
  • @Randal'Thor I presume he meant "just after the war started". But who knows. The same story is referenced elsewhere if you would like additional evidence. I'm just going through her autobiography to see if that's the original source. – Matt Thrower Jul 4 '17 at 14:18

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.