Writer: Agatha Christie
Director: Gareth Armstrong
Reviewer: Sam Lowe
“Suspect everyone!” is intimidatingly written on the show’s poster. Yet, simultaneously we suspect someone. Tonight, the audience take on the role of investigator as they attempt to deduce whodunit; who committed the murder? Which character has the opportune moment and which one has the fitting motive? Yes, this is the world’s longest-running play, a classic of British Theatre… The Mousetrap.
Agatha Christie was born in Torquay in 1890. Amazingly, she received no formal education, Christie just lived in a house surrounded by books. Her mother would read to her and encourage her to just write – even when she was full of cold and in bed. As a result of her upbringing, Christie went on to earn lots of money writing about murder. Her stories were so popular that a million copies of one of her novels was published in one day. In 2019, The Mousetrap is currently embarking on yet another UK Tour and the original production is still playing at St Martin’s Theatre in the beating heart of London’s West End.
Let’s look at the facts: a group of people are trapped in Monkswell Manor Guest House and cut off by the heavy snowfall. They have food, water, shelter and (just about) some heating, while they wait for the snow to melt. Looking on the bright side, it all sounds rather warm, cosy, and inviting – especially as they are surrounded by the picturesque snow-covered countryside. Until, they learn a terrifying truth… there is a murderer in their midst. Each character under suspicion has something to hide, whether it be innocent or guilty. No one is safe in Christie’s thrillingly chilling creation with its intricate narrative and meticulously detailed characters.
Now, cross-examination of the performances. Gwyneth Strong, indeed, gives a strong performance as Mrs Boyle, who believes she’s the most important person in the room and is ultra-opinionated. Her comments on the working class elicit a slight backlash response from the Mancunian audience. Mr Paravicini (David Alcock) effortlessly switches from charmer to creep on a regular basis. Sargent Trotter, portrayed by Geoff Arnold is a convincing investigator. Giles and Mollie Ralston (Nick Biadon and Harriett Hare) are exactly how you would imagine a couple in the 1950s to be. The camp, quirky, and sweet, Christopher Wren is played by Lewis Chandler with a dance-like quality to his movements. Completing the ensemble, magnificently, are John Griffiths and Saskia Vaigncourt-Strallen. There is an eccentricity to all of the characters, with some of them it’s barely there and for others it’s clear as day. It’s the actors who create this peculiar, occasionally unnerving, atmosphere in the Lyric Theatre.
If you put a magnifying glass over Christie’s writing, we come to the conclusion she’s a creative genius. A semantic field pertaining to the themes of death is creatively used throughout the script and the actors acknowledge this when delivering their lines. When characters reveal their backstories, it doesn’t feel like the story repetitively goes from one suspect to the next, there is a natural and engaging flow to it. The order of scenes, everything from the murder to the ultimate reveal not only follows a logical progression but creates a dramatic and absorbing narrative in the context of the production. Wonderfully, other mini-reveals make an impact as you don’t see them coming because you’re focused on the central revelation of whodunit. You might be thinking that once you’ve seen it once, you probably don’t need to see it again. However, you should. There are clues you spot the second time which you didn’t notice the first time around.
The original set still remains, as designed for the London production in 1952: a realistic, beautiful, and lavish looking Guest House. Original Lighting Designer, Peter Vaughan Clarke creates a life-like design which makes the house appear deceptively safe and tranquil. Seconds of darkness creep in at just the right point, resulting in the murderer’s identity being concealed as well as producing a compellingly petrifying theatrical moment. As we keep hearing on the wireless, the murderer wore a dark overcoat, light scarf, and soft felt hat. The way in which they creatively play with these items of clothing in this production is subtly clever.
In summary: The Mousetrap is a classic, clever, and captivating piece of British Theatre. It’s still an entertainment hit after all these years, one that you can watch more than once and by doing so you’ll spot clues and signs you never saw before.
Runs until 18 May 2019 | Image: Contributed