Writer: Agatha Christie
Director: Gareth Armstrong
Reviewer: Alice Fowler
How well can you really know someone? Is everyone, in fact, a stranger? And what do you do when you find yourself cut off in an eccentric country guesthouse and learn there is a murderer in your midst?
Such questions have thrilled and provoked Mousetrap audiences since 1952. It is, famously, the longest-running theatre show ever; a fact that would surprise its writer, Agatha Christie, who predicted her new play might last eight months.
Happily, for all its longevity, this production of The Mousetrap is razor sharp. A murder has taken place in London, and the suspect, we learn, wore a dark coat, light scarf and a soft felt hat. Young married couple Giles and Mollie await the first arrivals at their newly opened guesthouse. All arrive, brushing off snow, in clothes that exactly match those worn by the murderer. Each of them is odd, with darkness in their pasts. Then a policeman arrives – on skis, for the house is cut off by snow – to find the killer who lurks among them.
A wonderful wood-panelled set perfectly creates a certain kind of draughty English sitting room. We are in an era of clipped vowels and thoughtless prejudice, in which lines such as ‘What a nuisance these daily women are’ can be uttered without irony.
There are new resonances, however, in the age of Airbnb, when so many of us open our homes to strangers. How much do we really know about them? Are they really who they say they are?
Performances are uniformly excellent. Gwyneth Strong, best known for TV’s Only Fools and Horses, plays the unpleasant Mrs Boyle, whose own past may catch up with her. David Alcock shines as the mysterious Italian Mr. Paravicini, who turns up uninvited, claiming his car has overturned in a snowdrift. Geoff Arnold convinces too, as the police sergeant who must work out what is really going on.
The play is, of course, a superb whodunnit. At the end, audiences are asked to keep the secret to themselves, so the show can roll on for a good few decades more. This reviewer guessed the murderer; will you?
Runs until 2 February 2019 | Image: Tristram Kenton