Towards Zero (Agatha Christie)

A clifftop murder mystery set entirely outdoors

Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes

Cast size: 13


Towards Zero (Agatha Christie)
When a house party gathers at Gull's Point, the seaside home of Lady Tressilian, Neville Strange finds himself caught between his old wife Audrey and his new flame Kay. A nail-biting thriller, the play probes the psychology of jealousy in the shadow of a savage and brutal murder. With reflections as well on suicide, depression and redemption, the play is a layered drama of piercing intelligence.

Play information

The action of the play takes place in the garden and terrace of Lady Tressilian's clifftop house, Gull's Nest.
Running time
2 hours 35 minutes

Character list

  • Number of male characters: 8
  • Number of female characters: 5
  • O’Donnell
  • Thomas Royde
  • Kay Strange
  • Neville Strange
  • Lady Tressilian
  • Janet Collier (Collie)
  • MacGregor
  • Audrey Strange
  • Angus McWhirter
  • Peter Da Costa
  • Inspector Leach
  • Sergeant Harvey
  • Dr. Wilson

Performing this play

More about this play

This play was the only one written by Agatha Christie under commission – to the Shuberts of New York. It was tried out for one week in Martha's Vineyard in 1945 but did not at the time transfer. The play and the story behind it were discovered by Julius Green in 2015 as part of his research for the history of Christie's life as a playwright – Curtain Up (HarperCollins, 2015).

Additional information

Arguably the best known adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel, Towards Zero, was that of prolific writer, Gerald Verner, in 1951. However, a few years ago, it was discovered that Agatha Christie had in fact written her own stage adaptation of the novel which was commissioned by the Shuberts in 1944 and it is this version that we present as part of The Collection.

Christie’s playscript followed her formula of neat plotting with a surprise outcome, but as was often the case with her playwrighting she paid par- ticular attention to characterisation and motivation.

Both versions of the text follow a similar narrative and pattern. The events of both plays explore how the characters, through their various interactions move towards a ‘zero hour’ of murder. Both explore the idea that murder shouldn’t be the beginning of a story but the end.

However, there are important differences involving set up of the pro- duction. Christie’s adaptation is a three-act, five-scene drama set to take place over eight days with thirteen actors whilst Verner’s version is again three acts but with six scenes set over seven days involving eleven actors.

Angus McWhirter is perhaps the most important character missing from Verner’s text but makes a very significant contribution to Christie’s original. His interactions with Audrey are perhaps the most profound of the play – allowing Christie to explore thematically the notions of mor- tality, suicide, depression and even redemption. These discussions offer both a torment, and perspective to Audrey’s situation but more impor- tantly, McWhirter’s background as a depressive and many failed suicide attempts allow him to recognise in Audrey, a vulnerable person in need of help.

Moreover, a significant distinction between the two texts is the setting; Christie’s is set at Lady Tressilian’s house in the open air on the terrace whereas Verner’s takes a more familiar path and is set in the drawing room of Lady Tressilian’s house.

By all accounts Christie’s original is a far more ambitious and dramatic piece of writing. Not only staged outdoors, it deals with a controversial theme and attempts to delve deep into the psyche of its characters.