Touring – reviewed at Leicester Haymarket
The last (and first) time I saw Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap was performance number 25,114 at St Martin’s Theatre. I was looking for a Tuesday matinee before seeing a preview of Peter Morgan’s The Audience starring Helen Mirren in the evening.
Now in its 68th year in the West End, the play is also touring and shows no signs of slowing down. And whilst the play is more than a bit of a warhorse, it has become a staple of British theatre. In the excellent programme which charts the play’s history, including a list of every London cast, there’s an accompaniment of major news headlines from each year. Through royal scandals, political crises and indeed pandemics, this whodunnit is still standing. But whether you view it as a museum piece or bona fide murder mystery with a capacity to thrill, Christie’s good old-fashioned stagecraft ensures that The Mousetrap is still satiating audiences in 2020.
The curtain rises on a radio bulletin announcing that a woman has been murdered in Paddington. Miles away, in the Berkshire countryside, is the play’s setting of Monkswell Manor, a guesthouse ran by a young married couple. We see a string of guests arrive, many of whom fit the description of the murderer, shortly before Sergeant Trotter who claims that the London murder could well be connected to the guests, all of whom are in danger.
There are several twists and interesting backstories, characters not being as they first appear, and even a second murder before the curtain closes on the first act. The second act cuts to the chase a lot quicker, and there’s a clever Hamlet link when characters start to re-enact the murder.
Anthony Holland’s design plays the part of charming, rural guesthouse very well: wood-panelling, cosy armchairs, and plenty of exits which hide a rabbit warren of corridors to link up the rest of the house – a nice quirk which also provides a modus operandi. Snow can be seen falling from outside the window, and several nursery rhyme motifs contribute to the production’s playful tone.
The cast all do splendid work – I can only imagine how the actors feel having to wear the shoes of dozens of actors before them; mere cogs in a bigger machine. In particular, Susan Penhaligon stands out as the brassy Mrs Boyle, Steven Elliott has a lot of fun chewing the scenery as Mr Paravicini, and Martin Allanson gives a confidently assured performance as Sergeant Trotter.
Christie’s works have had a bit of a renaissance in recent years: from the “sexed-up”, first-rate BBC adaptations to the chocolate box Kenneth Branagh films, even on stage with Lucy Bailey’s production of Witness for the Prosecution at London County Hall. But amongst them all, The Mousetrap is still her calling card.
Its enduring popularity remains a bit of a mystery to me, but an enjoyable one at that. There are other curiosities to the play: why the drawn-out exposition? What is in Paravicini’s little bag? And for fans of Mischief Theatre, there’s plenty of fun to be had out of spotting echoes of Murder at Haversham Manor.
The Mousetrap plays at the Leicester Haymarket Theatre until 14thMarch and continues to tour the UK. For full tour dates, please see https://www.mousetrapontour.com/The cast of The Mousetrap. Credit: https://www.mousetrapontour.com/gallery/