INSIGHTS: Two "new" adapted plays by Agatha Christie
Most collectors of Agatha Christie's works seek her first edition novels. However, Agatha Christie was also a writer of stage plays, radio dramas and television scripts. It should be noted that the full oeuvre of stage-based play scripts falls into three categories:
1) Original works (i.e. a story first written as a play by Christie).
2) Adapted or Revised Works (solely by Christie).
3) Adapted by Others (occasionally with Christie’s involvement).
In prior articles we’ve explored collecting Original Works and those Adapted by Others (see links below). We haven’t yet published a full article on all the works that Agatha Christie adapted or revised from her own original source material, yet when we do there are two new additions to the list that are the subject of this article.
For someone seeking to start collecting Christie's play scripts, the logical place to start would be with her original works - of which there are 11. These plays are an essential part of any complete Christie collection and our full article on them can be found here. The next category would be those she adapted herself as these are also versions of original works.
This article focuses on two fairly recently discovered play scripts that have only been available to acquire and read for the last couple of years. They are Towards Zero and The Stranger. Both were adapted by Agatha Christie from her own original works - the book Towards Zero and the short story Philomel Cottage.
First published in 2018 by Samuel French. Copyright 1945. It’s first known performance was on Martha’s Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts (USA) on 4th September 1945. It should be noted this was two days after the surrender of Japan fully ending World War II so one can only imagine the celebratory mood of being at the theatre that evening.
While most readers of Christie related plays are familiar with Towards Zero as a play, it is likely the 1951 version adapted by Gerald Verner. This earlier version was written by Christie in 1944 due to a commission Christie accepted from Lee Shubert, of the Shubert Theatre organization in New York. Shubert ran the play for a trial run but wrote back to Christie that "We found the climax came too suddenly and the final situation was not plausible to the audience." It is possible this feedback caused Christie to reach out to Verner to rewrite her play or freshly adapt the novel.
The two plays have some similarities but also significant differences. Christie’s is a three act, five scene drama played out over eight days by thirteen actors solely on the outdoor terrace of Lady Tressilian’s house. Verner’s adaptation is also three acts, but with six scenes played out over seven days with eleven actors all in a more traditional set – the drawing room of Lady Tressilian.
The play is referred to by the publisher, Samuel French, as Towards Zero (Outdoors). It was first published in 2018 and the current inventory at Samuel French (Concord Theatricals) is original stock so first edition first printings can still be acquired at £9.99 UK or $9.95 US from either the UK or US websites.
First published in 2017 by Samuel French. Copyright 1932. The play was first professionally performed by iTheatre Saratoga, at the Riggi Theatre, Saratoga, New York, USA on 25th January 2019. Of note, a UK professional premier will be occurring at the 2021 International Agatha Christie Festival in September 2021.
While most readers of Christie related plays are familiar with Love From A Stranger, written by Frank Vosper (with Christie's involvement) and first published in 1937 by Samuel French Limited, Christie’s own adaptation is the earlier version.
The two plays have some similarities but also significant differences. Christie’s is a three act play with six characters. Act 1 set in a Kensington (London) flat, while Act II and III occur three months later at a country cottage. Vosper’s play is also three Acts, but each act is divided into two scenes and featuring eight actors. Act I is set in a Bayswater (London) flat in March, while Act II and III occur across April and September in a country cottage. Of note, Vosper also starred in the opening production of the play.
Christie's play is titled The Stranger by the publisher, Samuel French, and should not be confused with Love From a Stranger when ordering. It was first published in 2017 and the current inventory at Samuel French (Concord Theatricals) is original stock so first edition first printings can still be acquired at £9.99 UK or $9.95 US from either the UK or US websites.
At this time, neither of these plays would be considered collectible nor likely to gain value. The value in these plays is the opportunity for fans of Christie’s works to have new stories to read that can further their appreciation of her skills as an author. Lastly, for those who haven't tried reading playscripts, you should as they are easy to read to enjoy.