TEN LITTLE NIGGERS
Written by Agatha Christie
Directed by Geoffrey Edwards
Ian McKellen in the role of Anthony Marston
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry
2 April 1962 - 22 April 1962
Words from Ian McKellen
This classic who-dunnit is nowadays known as “Ten Little Indians”. The cunning plot involves the killing of 10 people before the final curtain. Bernard Kilby played Sir Lawrence Wargrave the mass-murderer who poisoned me, his first victim, early in Act One. During the middle of the run, Bernie mismanaged a stage-fall over the sofa and hurt his innards. After the show, he was rushed to hospital and next night Geoffrey Edwards, the director, substituted for him – the Belgrade Theatre could not afford a team of understudies and during the season this was the only time we needed one.
Two days later Bernie died. During that night’s performance, our grief and nervousness were uncontrolled: each time a victim expired onstage we had to stifle our nervous laughter, as we contrasted Dame Agatha’s callous playing with death, with our own bereavement.
Bernard Kilby was slightly built and in life was much less noticeable than onstage, where he could generate controlled power, as well as time a laugh-line to perfection. I was lucky to work with him and learn from him – worthy of more prestigious jobs than play-after-play in the provinces. Trapped at the Belgrade Theatre, he was paying off his income tax debts. I resolved never to let the Inland Revenue guide my career.
For another thing, I cherish his memory. After licensing hours, we were allowed to drink behind closed curtains at the public house opposite the stage-door. I liked to buy my round of drinks – my tipple was half a pint of bitter. Whenever I tried to buy Bernie a drink he would refuse and bought me one instead. “I earn more than you and we should share it out” he said. “Just promise me that if ever you can afford it, you will buy the younger actors their drinks.” Whenever I do this these days, I remember gentle, generous Bernard Kilby.