Writer: Agatha Christie
Director: Gareth Armstrong
Reviewer: Tim Harding
“When the snow melts lots of things may have happened.”
An isolated Manor House. A blizzard cutting the inhabitants off from civilization. A mismatched assemblage of characters thrown together by circumstance and forced to endure together by fate. Where else could we be but in an Agatha Christie plot? Specifically, we are in Monksmoor Manor, the location for The Mousetrap, the play Christie wrote in 1952 that has been playing in London ever since. In 2012, to celebrate the play’s Diamond anniversary, it set out on its first ever tour and is now weaving it’s twisting spell over audiences the length and breadth of the country again.
The characters coming together for the opening of Monksmoor Manor guest house are the owners Giles and Molly Ralston, a young and relatively newly married couple, and four guests; the eccentric Christopher Wren (a delightfully mannered performance from Lewis Chandler), the crotchetty Mrs. Boyle (Susan Penhaligon), the androgenous Miss Casewell (Saskia Vaigncourt-Strallen) and the kindly Major Metcalf (John Griffiths). Throw in a rather creepy Italian whose car has, we are told, run into a snowdrift (David Alcock) and a very studious local police sergeant (Geoff Arnold), and the scene is set for a terrific piece of suspense theatre.
Very definitely a play of two halves, Act 1 gets close to farce at times, especially with the reactions of Chandler’s Wren and Alcock’s Paravicini. One particularly delightful visual gag remains completely unexplained but adds to the absurdity of the growing atmosphere. (At this particular performance the fact that the theatre’s heating was not working properly also added an extra chilliness to the atmosphere in the auditorium!)
In Act 2, things have become more serious as Sergeant Trotter sets to work to find the clues. The dramatic scenes are beautifully paced by the entire cast but there are still moments of levity that are perfectly judged not to break the tension too much.
Everything about Gareth Armstrong’s production speaks class. The set, with dressing much of which does not get touched, is imposing, without being austere. The sound design and lighting that help the icy mood heighten the atmosphere immensely. The performances are fully committed, each actor perfectly embodying the nuances Christie has written them – even then there are standout performances from Chandler and Harriet Hare as the solid, dependable Molly.
The Mousetrap has endured for 67 years because it is a crackingly good script, beautifully produced, and everyone who sees it agrees not to give away any of its secrets. With productions this good, it could easily endure for many more years to come.
Runs until 16 November 2019 and on tour Image: Johann Persson