Writer: Agatha Christie
Director: Gareth Armstrong
Reviewer: Simon Topping
The Mousetrap is a theatrical phenomenon. It has been running continuously in London’s West End for as long as Elizabeth II, the longest reigning incumbent monarch, has been on the throne: over sixty-seven years. The England of the 1950s is almost unrecognisable to that of today, yet this play endures. The secret of this whodunit’s success lies in its origins. Written by the undisputed Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie brings all her deftness and skill to a piece that is the epitome of the cosy murder mystery.
It’s a cold, snowy day as Giles and Mollie Ralston open their guest house to paying visitors for the very first time; newlyweds and with little to no hospitality experience, it is a venture the couple are understandably nervous of. As the day goes on their peculiar visitors begin to arrive and to top it all reports on the radio give news of a gruesome murder in London which includes a vague description of the man that is wanted for questioning; it is a portrait almost all of the guests could match.
The band of misfits taking shelter in the house wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of Fawlty Towers. There is an old military Major, a fierce battle axe ex-magistrate, a camp young gentleman, a boyish young woman and mysterious foreigner whose car has turned over in the snow. All seem suspicious from the start; is anyone truly who they say they are?
As the weather conditions worsen the party hunker down for the night, ready to be cut off from the world. It is then a call comes in from the Berkshire police to say they are sending a Sergeant to the guest house. This revelation heightens the tension between the holidaymakers and makes a few of the patrons immediately on edge.
The staging and costumes are marvellously done. The audience is transported into a mid-twentieth century chic, that is warm and comforting, with wood panelled walls and patterned sofas. The use of foam to represent snow on clothes as the travellers come in to thaw is nicely done and raises some hearty chuckles in the room.
The cast are all very good at portraying their stereotypical archetypes. Gwyneth Strong (best known as Cassandra from Only Fools and Horses) plays grumpy magistrate, Mrs Boyle, with great relish and flair. Nothing at the hotel is quite right for the pernickety Boyle and she definitely lets her hosts know about it.
Lewis Chandler is fabulous as the over the top, flamboyant, Chris Wren, most of the evenings laughs come from his characters posturing and drawn out language; it is rich rendering which seems like a cross between Roddy McDowell’s performance opposite Peter Ustinov’s Poirot in the 1980s film, Evil Under the Sun with a pinch of stand up comedian Joe Lycett. John Griffiths as Major Metcalfe also excels in his role as the pompous and amusing ex-army man.
As the play continues and police Sergeant Trotter (another funny, yet coincidental, connection to Only Fools) interrogates the secretive gathering, the audience is drawn into a world of murder and intrigue. To describe the plot more would break the code of not violating the best-kept secret in theatre, but needless to say expect twists, turns and shocking reveals!
The Mousetrap is the Queen of cosy mystery plays with its sumptuous set, array of eccentric upper-class characters and well-written plot twists. This touring version has an exemplary cast and is a must-see for all whodunit fans.
Runs until 6 July 2019 and on tour | Image: Contributed