Monday 20th May 2019 at the Grand Opera House York.
The marketing will proudly tell you that Dame Agatha Christie’s titan of the stage was established in 1952. A quick search tells you it’s been playing in the West End for an unstoppable 66 years. The programme will tell you that Christie is Penguin Books’ best seller. So what does all the fuss and longevity boil down to? Well, it turns out, it’s a simple case of a well crafted tale of suspense.
The Mousetrap is a whodunnit with just the right measurements of tension and comic relief. In fact there’s more in the way of gentle laughs than most might expect from a murder mystery dressed up as a thriller for the ages. Christie may have been writing for a generation brought up on good old fashioned reading (!) and radio shows, but there’s a timelessness to the appeal – just look at contemporary TV listings and you’ll see the whodunnit all over the shop. We love the thrill and the guessing game. We’re fascinated by human behaviour, by the quirks of strangers and by the deviancy behind facades.
Christie’s characters are suitably clear cut, allowing for a good build up of various suspicious undertones and red herrings. There’s an inevitable element of the stock character about it but with a uniformly great cast like this, there’s a good deal of depth too. It’s impossible to give more than brief detail and ‘keep the secret’ as the show begs of us, so I’ll keep it brief!
Young couple Mollie and Giles Ralston (the perfectly cast Harriett Hare and Nick Biadon) have taken on a grand guest house. On a conveniently snowy night, they find themselves cut off from everything along with their quirky guests. A nearby murder leads to a police officer, the very cockney, very efficient and very hard done by Sgt Trotter (Geoff Arnold) to turn up and from there the winding alleyways of mystery and suspicion takes hold.
The guests? Four of them, but double the work of their sum in their supremely demanding natures. Mrs Boyle (Gwyneth Strong) is aptly named and the cantankerous thorn in every side and Mr Paravicini (David Alcock) is a queer and suggestive old chap with a penchant for basking in unpleasant allusions… Christopher Wren (the stand-out of the production, Lewis Chandler) is the quirky comedian who either delights or dismays his fellow guests with his excitability and odd relish in the macabre. Miss Casewell (Saskia Vaigncourt-Strallen) is the strong, silent and playfully over-assertive type while Major Metcalf (John Griffiths) is the quiet type with little time for twerps and a keen interest in the art of observing. They’re a strange and entertaining bunch to get to know and over time, secrets are spilled or kept under lock and key – some are benign of course, but others…
It’s all very nicely done and unsurprisingly, the production is sharp as a tack with timing and performances polished like a suspect candlestick in a darkened drawing room… Gareth Armstrong’s direction sees the cast nursing melodrama without downing the bottle and strikes a beautiful balance of pregnant pauses and witty remarks. The reveals are well spun and the drama credible (there is a jarringly swift shift in the final few scenes which feels rushed, and the stark transition of the killer doesn’t quite feel credible, but the performances generally just about pull it off).
Peter Vaughan Clarke’s lighting and Richard Carter’s sound designs bring the atmosphere up or down with the kind of ceremony we come to expect from a show like this – but again, in design as in most things, this production respects the tropes without the excess.
The Mousetrap is set to remain pretty timeless in appeal. Until we lose all interest in the oddities of strangers we find ourselves with, this show will likely triumph. Throw in a murder mystery and plenty of measured melodrama and you’ve got something cross-generational which is very much attuned to current tastes and trends. The conclusion isn’t quite as shocking as it might be and feels quite tame by modern standards, but that’s not the point – the point is that it keeps you guessing throughout and brings about the reveal with craft. The decor, the costumes and the RP accents may cry out from another era, but there’s plenty of fresh appeal, and it’s thoroughly enjoyable to sit in this bubble for an evening of detective work.
If you love a nostalgic period piece where the prim and proper meets the underworld of crime, get yourself to The Mousetrap!
The Mousetrap is presented by Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen and Adam Spiegel and plays at the Grand Opera House, York until May 25th 2019. You can find tickets here. Following this stop, the tour continues until February 2020 and you can find more information about tickets and venues here.