Writer Agatha Christie
Director: Ian Watt-Smith
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels
Allegedly the cleverest murder mystery in the history of British theatre, Agatha Christie’s legendary whodunit The Mousetrap is the longest running show not only in the UK but in the world. A twister in every sense of the world, it has clocked up almost 65 years of running continuously since it first opened in the West End. Despite being from another era and a step back in time in that it is rooted in the 1950s, it is still capable of sending shivers down the spine.
The scene is set for the drama when a group of people gather in a country house opening to its first guests. Cut off by a heavy fall of snow, the ill-assorted group marooned together discover to their horror that there is a murderer among them. With their nerves in shreds, the characters under suspicion (namely all of them) struggle to hide their sordid pasts from one another. A trail of red herrings leads the audience up the garden path until at last the identity of the murder, and the motive, are revealed.
From the start, the tension is palpable. Remarkably, Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen and Adam Spiegel’s touring production succeeds in bringing fresh nuances to the play. Or perhaps they were already there, although audiences back in the 50s would not have been aware of them, in particular, the multi-faceted over-the-top portrayal of one of the suspects at the guest house – Oliver Gully’s Christopher Wren, garbed in bright yellow trousers and given to extravagant gestures, has dark undertones in addition to those of the script. Or perhaps they were already there, waiting to be discovered? While clever plots and characterisations are pivotal to the Agatha Christie mysteries, it is important that her skill with dialogue is also given full credit, for it is masterly.
Anna Andresen gives a controlled portrayal as Mollie Ralston, the wet-behind-the-ears co-owner of the guest house with her husband Giles, as does Amy Downham as the mysterious Miss Casewell who is one of the motley assortment of guests. Completing the female members of the cast is Sarah Whitlock as the dictatorial Mrs Boyle. On the male side, a strong cast includes Gregory Cox, twirling his mustachios as Mr Paravicini, with reference to another of Christie’s well-loved characters, namely Hercule Poirot. Cox hams it up with gusto, but should just keep an ear open regarding his accent which does tend to slip at times.
And speaking of detectives: on opening night in Cardiff Alan Magor took the role of Sgt. Trotter in place of the listed Lewis Collier. Magor’s Trotter is boyish, although with a tendency to become overly-loud when emphasising a point in the second half. But then – perhaps this is what Christie intended.
Faithful to the time in which it was penned, the set adheres to the original, complete with Bakelite radio, while lighting in the hands of Peter Vaughan Clarke is spot-on.
As with all of Christie’s murder mysteries, there are links to at least one of her other crime thrillers. Here it takes the form of the nursery rhyme ditty Three Blind Mice, which was the title of an earlier play which Christie wrote originally for radio, but later formed the basis of The Mousetrap.
Runs until Saturday 1 October 2016 |Image: Contributed