Writer: Agatha Christie
Director: Ian Watt-Smith
Lighting Designer: Peter Vaughan-Clarke
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
How do you review a Great British Institution? Particularly one that has been as much mocked as loved. Immediately we are in territory that invites parody: the handsome traditional country house setting (strangely uncredited) and an opening scene that recalls Tom Stoppard’s glorious send-up, The Real Inspector Hound, particularly in the uniquely co-operative radio that comes up with the right bit of news on cue.
As the evening progresses, however, it becomes obvious that The Mousetrap, while far from great drama, is a very canny piece of theatre. Agatha Christie, who was under no illusions about it, gives us the clue: “It’s not really frightening. It’s not really horrible. It’s not really a farce, but it has a little bit of all these things.” Though the big dramatic moments are not really frightening, the second act revelation of character secrets can be quite gripping, but what of Christie’s reference to farce? Certainly, Stoppard could not improve on the moment when, just when the characters are certain that no one could get through the inevitable snowstorm, there’s a knock on the window and a policeman on skis appears!
The situation is certainly far-fetched and cliché-ridden, though Christie plays nice variations on the clichés. Giles and Mollie Ralston, the archetypal upper-middle-class young marrieds, innocent of the world, have inherited Monkswell Manor which they are about to open as a guest house. Their four guests are recognisable types – the blimpish major, the endlessly complaining lady of a certain age, the sardonically withdrawn mannish young woman and the neurotically artistic young man – and all have secrets, not necessarily guilty ones. Then there is the extravagantly Italian Mr. Paravicini who has buried his car in a snowdrift and arrives unexpectedly.
A murder has been committed in London, obviously a revenge attack on a woman who was guilty of causing the death of a child in her foster care. The murderer left a note referring to Monkswell Manor and the song, Three Blind Mice: “This is the first.” So the skiing police sergeant is there to guard against two murders, but, as the first act curtain comes down on the first murder, the mystery is not only whodunitbut who will be done next.
Christie – and the director, Ian Watt-Smith – have a sure grip on tone. As character secrets emerge via intense duologues and the obligatory “Somebody in this room is a murderer” gatherings, the pace builds and the puzzle is resolved, the chuckles in the audience resulting from the sort of satisfaction you get from a completed square at Sudoku. And finally, after one murder and several breakdowns, we resume normal life at Monkswell Manor.
Anna Andresen has the most fully rounded character in the play, Mollie, with some agonised scenes in Act 2 to go with the devoted trying-ever-so-hard wife of Act 1. Nick Barclay is similarly convincing as Giles – decent, with rather too many prejudices and assumptions, never quite knowing what’s going on. Lewis Collier is the over-active policeman and Tony Boncza (Major Metcalf), Sarah Whitlock (Mrs. Boyle), Amy Downham (Miss Casewell), Gregory Cox (Mr. Paravicini) and Oliver Gully (Christopher Wren) play the clichés skilfully and, now and again, enjoy subverting them.
Touring nationwide | Image: Contributed