The senior citizen of whodunits!

mousetrap cast

The cast of The Mousetrap - suspects all. Picture: Helen Maybanks

Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap

Malvern Theatres

***

I SUPPOSE this is as good a time as any to confess that I have never read a book by Agatha Christie.

As if writing around a hundred books and almost twenty plays, being translated into over a hundred languages and being the best-selling mystery writer of all time were not impressive enough, Christie also has a vast audience who, like me, are familiar with her work solely through film and television adaptations.

The Mousetrap has unusual and regal origins. When asked by the BBC what she would like for her eightieth birthday in 1947, Queen Mary, King George VI’s mother, replied that she would rather like a play by Agatha Christie.

Christie dutifully wrote a short radio play, Three Blind Mice, which she then developed into The Mousetrap which premiered in 1952 and which she reportedly believed would not run for long. Sixty two years later and the play is still going strong. It is the world's longest running stage production, and these Malvern shows make up part of The Mousetrap’s diamond anniversary tour.

The plot is a familiar one: a group of apparent strangers, including a mysterious foreigner, is trapped in a large country house cut off from civilisation, in this case by snow, when a murderer strikes. This comes straight after a woman’s murder in London, and there are fears that what links these two deaths must inevitably lead to a third. Every character is a suspect, and each has secrets they try hard to conceal. Will the killer be uncovered in time to stop another death? The ingredients of a great mystery are all there.

However, despite the play’s reputation and longevity, I found the production failed to impress. The set was grand and the snow falling outside the windows was convincing enough, I just felt that there was a lack of atmosphere and tension throughout. The first scene introduced us to the main characters and the second scene introduced Detective Sergeant Trotter (played by Luke Jenkins). The pipes are frozen. The phone line is dead. The characters are all still alive. The pace feels incredibly slow and I find myself willing someone to die. Eventually our murderer does the deed, in what must be one of the least dramatic stage murders ever. Mollie Ralston screams, the audience laughs, and the curtain comes down.

The second half of the play sees the hidden histories of these strange personalities slowly uncovered. They are inevitably afraid and suspicious of each other. Giles Ralston and his wife (Henry Luxemburg and Helen Clapp) come to doubt each other, Major Metcalf (Christopher Gilling) seems oddly aloof, and Mr Paravicini (played rakishly by Michael Fenner) is downright creepy. And what is the real story of the childlike Christopher Wren (Stephen Yeo) and the true reason for this rare trip to England by Miss Casewell (Charlotte Latham)?

The trouble was I really didn’t care. At the end of the production we were asked to keep to ourselves the mystery of the murderer’s identity. The second half of the night was ruined for me though as I’d worked out before the end of the first half who was guilty, and that’s not something I ever do if watching a Poirot or Miss Marple, when so many people seem to have had a motive and opportunity to kill.

Many in the audience were surprised though, if the gasps at the reveal were anything to go by, so I’m sure a lot of people went away thoroughly entertained and satisfied. I can’t help wondering what all the fuss is about though, and suspect that many go to see The Mousetrap to find that out for themselves, thus creating a never-ending audience keen to understand the secret of the play’s success.

Christie herself hinted that it might be down to the tale’s humour and lack of real violence, and it is, as she commented, a harmless play that anyone could watch without being frightened. And of course nobody would watch or read Agatha Christie expecting to be terrified, but I had hoped for some kind of intrigue, suspense and misdirection or even to like some of the characters. I was disappointed on all counts.

Easy watching, and a strangely enduring phenomenon in itself, The Mousetrap continues its tour of Britain and will no doubt leave Christie fans happy. To 18-10-14.

Amy Rainbow

13-10-14 

Contents page Malvern Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre