Agatha Christie’s – The Mousetrap
Directed by Ian Talbot OBE
Nottingham Theatre Royal (Touring)
Tuesday 27 September – Saturday 1 October 2022
Let me begin with the confession that I have never seen The Mousetrap. This is particularly remiss of me because I am a huge admirer of Agatha Christie. In my opinion, she is the doyenne of crime fiction and so much more than just a ‘classic purveyor of the whodunnit.’
Christie had a unique understanding of the human psyche and of how both nature and nurture can shape a person. Moreover, she was not afraid to present unpleasant and deeply flawed characters. The onus is then firmly placed on us as to how we judge them.
The Mousetrap is the world’s longest running play, but did you know that its premiere was held at Nottingham Theatre Royal back in 1952? Christie visited the venue itself and was widely acknowledged to have christened it her ‘lucky theatre.’ There is something rather propitious about sitting in the same stalls as the great woman herself, almost seventy years to the day.
Following its debut in Nottingham, The Mousetrap opened in the West End where still to this day, it continues its record-breaking run at the St Martin’s Theatre having been performed there over 28,500 times and selling over 10 million tickets. It is now back for a 70th Anniversary tour, beginning with tonight’s performance.
The play is situated in the ‘front hall’ of Monkswell Manor, a remote countryside guesthouse. Its proprietors are young married couple Mollie and Giles Ralston (Joelle Dyson and Laurence Pears). As they await their arrivals, a report on the wireless informs us of a murder in London. The victim’s name is Maureen Lyons, and she has been strangled to death. One by one the guests appear at Monkswell, including a stranded stranger Mr Paravicini (John Altman) whose car has overturned in a snowdrift.
The rest, including Christopher Wren (Elliot Clay), Major Metcalf (Todd Carty), Mrs Boyle (Gwyneth Strong), and Miss Casewell (Essie Barrow) comprise a winning ensemble. Gradually, their inner secrets are revealed with the arrival of Detective Sergeant Trotter (Joseph Reed) who tells them the murderer is in their midst. Who is this murderer and who might be the next victim? That is what the audience is here to find out and this production is performed with éclat and a surprising amount of humour.
Transported back to post-war Britain, we are posited in a room clad with wooden panelling, alongside a huge hearth and impressive stained-glass window. As Christopher Wren himself declares it has ‘lovely proportions’ and appears to be ‘a real bedrock of respectability.’ There is period detail everywhere – a Bakelite telephone, and clothbound books or chintzy figurines on the mantelpiece. We even see snow through the window and on characters’ clothes as they arrive. Nonetheless, what should be a warm and welcoming haven soon becomes something else altogether.
Wren declares that ‘you never know what other people are thinking.’ They are indeed ‘madly interesting.’ We want to know what secrets the characters are hiding. Moreover, we want to spot the red herrings and to solve the mystery ourselves. Undoubtedly, this forms part of the enduring appeal of The Mousetrap.
My favourite performance of the night is that of Carty as the amiable ex-military man, Major Metcalf. I fully admit I might be somewhat biased here. Having grown up in the 1980s, I was obsessed with Grange Hill and Tucker Jenkins. Part of the appeal in his performance lies in Carty playing against type. Major Metcalf is far removed from Mark Fowler in EastEnders and there is immense appreciation to be had from Carty’s understated expertise.
There is also tremendous fun and enjoyment in watching Clay as Christopher Wren. His boyish enthusiasm is displayed with perfect comic timing yet, as Mollie does, we see that his hyperactivity masks deeper insecurities.
Sadly, there are definitely first night glitches, including a badly behaved table lamp, blocking issues and fluffed lines. (I am also not an enthusiast of characters having their back to the audience, as happens at times with Detective Sergeant Trotter.) Notwithstanding, these can all be ironed out as the tour progresses.
The title of The Mousetrap originates from the ‘play-within-a-play’ in Hamlet. The Bard writes that, ‘the play’s the thing’ and that is justly so with The Mousetrap. It is a bona fide slice of theatre history, fêted all around the world and genuinely enjoyed by young and old alike.
If you are looking for a ‘thriller’ of an evening, then The Mousetrap is for you. We exit the Theatre Royal with a plea from the cast to keep the secret of this whodunnit ‘locked in our hearts.’ Accordingly, this reviewer would encourage you to see this record-breaking production and join this flourishing club.
Rating: 4* Running Time: 2hr 20mins (including interval)