Any conversation about the Mousetrap is sure to start with its startling attributes; the record breaking run – three score years and then some, its basis on a real life murder case, the lack of any real big film production to date and the fact that the author herself thought that it would run for less than a year. It is of course Agatha Christie’s best known and best loved play but in many ways is one of her most divisive.
Supporters point to the quality of the writing, the elaborate structures within and the plot twists that became her hallmark whilst detractors often cite that the characters are too archetypal, clichéd even. But maybe we judge the piece through too much of a modern eye and should remember that the play was written at the time when the murder mystery was at its height, Christie herself had done a lot to keep the format alive. No matter where you stand on the effectiveness of the writing, any production stands or falls on the ability to bring that story to life. The play’s the thing…right?
And so we find a myriad of characters staying at a snowed in guest house run by the recently wed Ralston’s, a policeman arrives to say that there is a murderer on the loose and we find ourselves in typical Christie territory. No one is who they seem, backstairs and cellars doors mean that you can never quite be sure where anyone is and twisted plot lines, red herrings and subtle (and one not so subtle) reveals are the order of the day.
For my money the characters are anything but clichéd, merely well defined, colourful, contrasting and writ large, just what you need for a theatre production. And if, as I suggested, that the production stands or falls on the cast’s ability to bring those characters to the full, tonight we seemed to be in pretty safe hands.
Anna Andresen and Nick Barclay as the Ralston’s form a solid core for the plot to pivot on and Sarah Whitlock as the draconian Mrs Boyle makes you wish that any murderer on the loose would just get on with it…for all the right thespian reasons I might add. Amy Downham as the secretive and aloof Miss Casewell plays things just right as does Tony Boncza’s Major and Lewis Collier as Sgt. Trotter does a fantastic job of holding our attention, even when the room is full and he has his back to us.
As is often the way, the most memorable characters are those who get to play the fool and Oliver Gully as the hyper-active, slightly camp and overly affable Christopher Wren is outrageous, like a demob happy version of Russell Kane. But the star for me was Mr Paravicinci a role that Gregory Cox seemed to revel in: flamboyant, articulate, grandiloquent, dapper and graceful at a turn.
To those who wonder aloud why the play has endured, tonight gave the perfect answer. When performed properly it is about reserved pace rather than spectacle, it is quintessentially English, reassuringly familiar and thoroughly entertaining. For a thriller it is gentle and humorous, possibly old-fashioned and quaint but that also means that it is suitable for all ages. I just hope I look that good and manage to retain all of those qualities when I reach that age.
reviewed by Dave Franklin for The Swindonian