usual suspects

Whodunit? It could be one of them . . . possibly. Picture: Matt Crockett

The Mousetrap

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham


It is a surprise to me that I have never seen The Mousetrap - the trip to London’s West End never seemed worthwhile to see a play that has become more of a rite of passage, an event, rather than being considered a serious piece of theatre.

Now on tour of the UK and Ireland to celebrate its 70 years in production, my chance came as its tour bought it near to home, at the Alex.

The Mousetrap is the genre-defining murder mystery play with an instantly recognisable plot story that set out the landscape for all those that followed. As news spreads of a murder in London, seven strangers find themselves snowed in at a country guesthouse. When a police sergeant arrives the guests discover to their horror that a killer is in their midst.

Putting on such a well-established and long-running play poses its own challenges. The play itself remains very much ‘of its time’ - the days of good manners, caricatures of gentry, and foreigners playing the roles of villains.

The plot lines, and indeed tradition of the play, don’t allow for it to be transposed to modern era, so we are left with a period piece which for modern audiences at times seems unavoidably rather close to parody and is subsequently played more tongue-in-cheek than the author, Agatha Christy, I think intended.

There is very little freedom for artistic innovation here, and the play’s idiosyncrasies are at times compensated for with humour, which also means that some of the tension that should develop between the characters is lost and seems a little misplaced; at times it feels rather closer to comedy drama than murder mystery.

Without giving spoilers, as suspicion falls on each of the characters we never really believe that the characters variously suspected of the murders are sordid or villainous enough to be likely culprits.

Of course, the business of theatre is so often about putting bums on seats and if the measure of success of a show is the number of seats sold then this show will go on a successful run, helped not least in part by the inclusion of several well-known faces from the world of soaps that are sure to pull in the audiences required to ensure a profitable endeavour.


Todd Carty as Major Metcalf

Whether this is artistically for the best is less clear; Todd Carty plays a caricature of the bumptious and self-important Major Metcalf while John Altman as Mr Paravicini reprises the villainous roles for which he is renowned, although at times given to playing it for laughs and breaking the fourth wall, perhaps forgetting that it isn’t panto season yet.

Gwyneth Strong is convincing as the difficult and bad tempered Mrs Boyle. Joelle Dyson as Mollie Ralston newly married to Giles, played by Laurence Pears, give measured professional performances while Joseph Reed as Detective Sergeant Trotter relishes his role as he builds the tension as the mystery unfolds.

Essie Barrow manages to project a sense of mystery as the furtive Miss Casewell, while Elliot Clay shines as Christopher Wren, bringing both a camp exuberance and a sense of unease about his character.

Overall, this is a production that does exactly as expected. The set design is superb, light and sound provide atmosphere and help create a sense of mystery to proceedings. It is a polished, professional, well-paced, production of a play that has re-written the history books for the theatre.

The script, however, is starting to strain a little under modern sensibilities and the joy of the play is to be found less in any semblance it has to the original play or the thrill that audiences must once have been found as the sordid murder-mystery unfolds, but rather in the shared connections we hold with it.

We know it’s not the most thrilling piece of theatre but we forgive it because, well, it’s The Mousetrap. The producer and directors have provided an apogee to a play that has enjoyed 70 years of production in the knowledge that it should perhaps by now, like Calendar Girls, be given over to the many excellent amateur companies that would relish the opportunity to put on period drama. I am however, pleased to have seen it.

Rob Phillips and Martin Walker


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