As the lights dim and the audience hushes, we hear melodramatic voices pertaining to the (gasp!) murder of a woman in London. A wireless broadcast, homage to the play’s radio origins, gives us the details and, as the curtain rises on the decadent mid-winter guesthouse interior, we are told to be looking out for a man wearing a long coat, light scarf and felt hat at the precise moment co-owner Giles Ralston (Timothy Dewberry) appears in just such an outfit. With his nervously energetic dithering and the rich, plummy tones of his wife Mollie (Georgina Sutcliffe), it is all terribly British and a sure hit with the tourists, but the first half dithers a bit too much for my liking. There are some character subtleties, but on the whole, with such two-dimensional potential suspects, the pace is too slow to sustain a build up towards the point we’ve all been waiting for: another murder.
Like a game of Cluedo, each person is presented with a motive, an opportunity and few odd personality traits. It is difficult to assess the quality of acting when the characters are meant to be acting suspiciously, like Mr Paravicini (Neil Salvage) who, providing some creepy comic relief, comes across like a Welsh-Italian Bond villain. Having been parodied by plays like Stoppard’s Real Inspector Hound, it’s hard to know whether this is a parody of itself. There is enough ham on stage to open a butcher’s but somehow it doesn’t translate to an abundance of tension, comedy or edge-of-seat thrills. Each performance does exactly what is required of the part but the series of slow, expositional stories bogs down the progress somewhat. There are some upbeat performances from Richard Keightley as Christopher Wren who embraces the quirky energy of a nervous young man with a troubled past. Even the Sergeant (Marcel Bruneau) injected some much-needed drive to the proceedings, doing well to maintain focus despite a mobile phone in the auditorium blurting out Bruno Mars on more than one occasion. We may not have guessed the murderer by then, but we certainly knew who the next victim should be.
Cut off from the outside world by a blizzard, the well-furnished set with solid oak doors, fireplace, cosy lighting and leaded windows which swing in the breeze is very atmospheric and, with some well-placed snow on the costumes, leaves little to the imagination. Some thought for the cheap seats would have been nice though, as the view through the window is clearly an interior wall with a curtain and a very snow-free floor. Joining the others as guests for the night, Mrs Boyle (Jan Waters) is a wonderfully unpleasant lady with opinions (generally negative) on everything and Major Metcalf (Barry Aird) who is surprisingly naturalistic, given that his pipe-smoking war veteran could be as much a caricature as Paravicini. Both have some good comic timing and balance the exuberance of the younger characters well. Lottie Latham is wonderful fun as the tomboyish Miss Casewell though, like a lot of characters, is difficult to believe in her more emotive moments as she opts for a more melodramatic approach. Obviously, you can’t have too many people seeming genuine to give the audience a fighting chance of guessing "whodunnit", but it felt a little like being spoon-fed at times.
The clues are there to deduce the murderer, though in true Christie fashion there are clues for everyone and, when the criminal is finally discovered, a hefty intake of breath went round the audience. There were plenty of people having a jolly old time of it but no matter how much snow and wind there was on the set, the heat in the upper circle wasn’t helping me stay awake. This is Agatha Christie by the numbers and I would say that anyone who enjoys sitting down to Midsomer Murders of an evening would be in their element. There aren’t as many laughs as The 39 Steps or as many jumps as The Woman in Black, but it is a good piece of entertainment that is very much part of our culture. Once I'd overcome the excitement of the mystery, I left feeling otherwise underwhelmed and perhaps the hype of this record-breaking show was too great, but there is still much to enjoy and if you’ve never seen it before, it’s worth it just to be part of the conspiracy.
Name of Show: The Mousetrap
Genre: Comedy thriller
Playwright: Agatha Christie
Premiered: 6 October 1952 (Theatre Royal, Nottingham)
This Production Opened: 25 November 1952 (Ambassadors Theatre), 25 March 1974 (St Martin’s Theatre)
Tweet: Definitive comedy whodunit. An isolated guesthouse hosts eight suspects/victims with a twist in the tail of the world’s longest running play.
Synopsis: Two newly-weds open their isolated manor house to paying guests on the night of a terrible blizzard. Following news of a murderer on the loose, a policeman is sent to interview the guests in order to discover more about an historical child abuse case which he believes is the motive for the murderer. When one of the guests is killed, Detective-Sergeant Trotter must uncover the murderer before the next victim is claimed. Each of the eight characters has a suspicious history and most elicit suspicious behaviour. And the case unravels...
- The final reveal of who the murderer is has caused audiences to gasp for over sixty years.
Why See It: It’s the world’s longest running play and, at the request of Agatha Christie, cannot be produced in any other medium until the run in the west end has finished. It is an institution and a classic whodunit where the ending is truly a surprise and a long held secret between those who have seen it. If you’re a fan of a good melodramatic crime caper, you cannot afford to miss it. Having changed little since it opened, it is a strong link to this country’s cultural past and is a popular attraction for tourists. Even with the darker elements of its subject matter, it’s fun to spend the interval making your guesses and seeing who among you is the super sleuth.
Caveat: Having been running for so long, there are elements which are now a little outdated and the pace of the build-up can seem a little slow to a younger, modern audience. The production does seem to survive on its record-breaking run (nearly 25,000 consecutive performances) and the current cast don’t exude much fresh energy to the show. There has recently been a tour announced and licencing for other venues around the world to produceThe Mousetrap, which suggests that the West End run may have an end in sight. The play is almost entirely focused on deducing who the murderer is and doesn’t afford much in character depth or clever dialogue beyond this and as such, it is of little interest to people who have already seen it or who have separately found out who did the crime.
- It’s the world’s longest running play, in its 60th year with some 24,700 consecutive performances under its belt. It holds the Guinness World Record.
- The child abuse case in the play was based on the real-life case of Dennis O’Neill, who died at the hands of his foster carers in 1945. Agatha Christie wrote a radio play “Three Blind Mice”, loosely based on these events, which later developed into The Mousetrap. In real life, the foster care system was overhauled with the aim of preventing such cruelty in future.
- The original cast included Richard Attenborough as Trotter and his wife Sheila Sim as Mollie. Since the Nottingham premiere, the voice of Deryck Guyler has been and is still used for the radio news bulletins and the mantelpiece clock remains as the only original prop.
Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is nothing less than a West End institution. From the master of the whodunit; Mousetrap is with good reason Christie’s most iconic work. The only way to truly enjoy this legendary story is as a member of the audience, watching first hand a masterfully crafted piece of work that has you guessing right to the end. The longest running theatre production ever the Mousetrap is now well beyond its 25,000th performance, over 60 years old, and still going as strong as ever. During this phenomenal run there have been no fewer than 403 actors and actresses appearing in the play, 124 miles of shirts have been ironed and over 426 tons of ice cream sold. Some cast members are in the Guinness Book of Records, David Raven as the 'Most Durable Actor' for 4575 performances as Major Metcalf, and the late Nancy Seabrooke for a record breaking 15 years as an understudy. But it is the play and the author that are the real stars of this record breaking production. As much a feature of London as the Changing of the Guard and the London Dungeon, it is a must for tourists and locals alike, just to be a part of this unique piece of theatre history.
St Martins TheatreWest Street
London Greater London United Kingdom WC2H 0DP
Monday to Saturday 7.30pm, Tuesday at 3pm and Saturday at 4pm
Duration: 2 hours 15 minutes
Jan Waters © Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap
Marcel Bruneau and Georgina Sutcliffe © Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap at St Martin's Theatre
Barry Aird © Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap