Playwright: Agatha Christie
Director: Gareth Armstrong
The Mousetrap is a whodunnit with an unbeatable pedigree. In continuous production since 1952, The Mousetrap has long been a favourite with tourists, but as the play goes on tour, there’s no better time to re-appraise this time-tested classic.
Set in the heart of the English countryside, we meet newlyweds Mollie and Giles Ralston (Edith Kirkwood and Adam Lilley) as they prepare to launch Monkswell Manor as a luxury guest house. On the radio, as they prepare for their guests, plays a breaking news bulletin. A woman called Maureen Lyon has been murdered in London’s Culver Street. Her killer is still at large.
Christie’s cast of characters assembles for the house’s opening night as the winter weather turns. We meet Mrs Boyle (a brilliantly peevish Susan Penhaligon); Miss Casewell (Laura Costello), Christopher Wren (George Naylor) and Major Metcalf (John Griffiths). The snow begins to pile up, and just as they begin to settle, an unexpected guest arrives. Mr Paravicini (Steven Elliott) has overturned his car on an icy stretch of road. The Ralston’s house was the closest port of call.
The assembled guests make for an odd evening. Wren, named on purpose by his ambitious parents, is a fractured, eccentric personality. Miss Casewell, striking a more contemporary note in men’s tailoring, bumps heads with Mrs Boyle and her (very) conservative politics.
We have all the makings of a traditional murder mystery. Then the phone rings. Giles is informed that a policeman is travelling up to the house as a matter of urgency. Detective Sgt Trotter (Martin Allanson) arrives at the house and reveals that Maureen Lyon had just left prison after being found guilty of child neglect. Fostering three children, the police suspect the youngest boy, now in his twenties, of being Lyon’s killer. Leaving a note on the body, ‘Three Blind Mice’, the police have followed the murderer’s trail to the guest house. At least one of the guests has a connection to the Lyon case. Worse still, the killer is sitting among them.
Much of Christie’s appeal is in her game-playing with the audience. As the characters are introduced to us, we meet not one, but several suspects meeting the description of the killer. No-one can be discounted; Christie casts shade in every direction.
As the narrative sparks and builds: cruelty here is not a single act, but the devastation left behind by ordinary people. The Mousetrap delineates a post-war world where old certainties are disengaged; anyone can invent a history. One of the most unnerving moments is where Mollie Ralston admits she married Giles after knowing him for just 6 weeks. It is against this backdrop of shifting moral ambiguity that Christie places her murderer.
The play draws to a close, and the audience is urged to keep The Mousetrap secret. While the plot twists are delicious, it’s not why this play has endured for so long. Agatha Christie understood that human nature is the one constant. It is our desire to overlook clues, and overplay others, that she so readily exploits. We think we have it all figured out, and then The Mousetrap changes the rules. Still relevant after nearly 70 years, The Mousetrap beckons. Just be warned: the truth is rarely pure and never simple.
Runs until Saturday 28 February | Image: Johann Persson