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The Mousetrap – Royal & Derngate, Northampton

Writer: Agatha Christie:

Director: Ian Watt-Smith

Reviewer: Sue Dixon

[rating:3.5]

The Mousetrap Royal &Derngate Helen MaybanksAgatha Christie first wrote The Mousetrap as a radio piece (Three Blind Mice), a gift to Queen Mary for her 80th birthday, back in 1952. It has now been running for so long it is considered a national institution along with Madame Tussauds or the changing of the guards; something you have to do if you visit London. It was therefore with a bit of “let’s tick this off the list of the ones you have to see” attitude that I approached this legendary piece of writing from Dame Agatha Christie.

As an overall experience there are those who have likened it to being involved in a giant game of Cluedo, a bit old fashioned but with a certain charm and still delightfully entertaining. The set reflects that delightful charm, it is just right – depicting a shabby chic, wood panelled country house hotel with slightly worn but well-loved furniture designed to make any guest feel home from home. The lighting is sympathetic to this as well – genteel and diffused across the whole stage.

The play begins with a few bars of “black and white” music, evocative of grainy murder mystery films of old but the cast lifts that first impression into a full 3D, colourful experience. I can’t say too much about the plot without giving things away; as a whodunnit the whole point is to keep the audience guessing amid its twists and turns. It involves five guests who are together in a country house and become snowed in. A policeman arrives to inform them about a murderer who is on the loose and the murder mystery unfolds from there.

The cast is made up almost entirely of TV soap stars which can be a bonus or a hindrance depending how you look at it; lots of experience between them but potentially some baggage as they have to work hard to ask any audience to suspend all their preconceptions of them. Nevertheless, they all very quickly adopt their characters and make them quite believable, including a particularly strong performance from Jemma Walker as the wife of Giles Ralston played by Bruno Langley, who owns the hotel, a delightful portrayal of Mr Paravicini from Karl Howman and a wonderfully camp and over the top interpretation of Christopher Wren played by Steven France.

Apparently, Christie herself thought it would only run for a few months when she wrote it back in 1952. The Mousetrap is still watchable and must be celebrated for lasting so long; but it is of its time and remains quintessentially dramatic and staged.

It has now been ticked off the list and need not be seen again. It’s probably heresy to say it’s overrated – but I think it probably is.

Runs until Saturday 23 March 2013

Picture: Helen Maybanks

 

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