The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie
Theatre Royal Plymouth
Running Time – 2 hours 20 minutes – 1 interval
Theatre Royal Plymouth Box Office – 01752 267222
REVIEW – 24 February 2020
As a self-confessed Agatha Christie fan since my early teens, it is a wonder that it has take me so long to get round to seeing a production of The Mousetrap. I did read the play over 40 years ago and thought it not her best, but watching a play unfold is another matter.
From the off we know we are in deep Christie territory; large country house, snow falling heavily, assorted – apparently unconnected – people, phones dead. Cut off! The radio kicks off proceedings and announces that there has been a murder – we know it will not end well.
Agatha Christie has rarely been unpopular – old fashioned maybe – but her credit is enormously high – she is currently being treated a little like Shakespeare in versions of her books. Sarah Phelps is giving her a right old working over on television; changing plots, murderers etc – just as The Bard’s work is rarely left unsullied. The Mousetrap though has remained pretty much untouched by tinkering hands. It has survived in London’s West End for nearly 68 years and the tours have been highly successful.
Christie’s work is peppered by characters who have opinions and speak lines which are considered as inappropriate today – so barbs are sent in the direction of the poor, those from abroad, those with mental health issues and anyone who may not be heterosexual. All evoke a reaction from the audience – the audaciousness of the writer! But this is a period piece and reflects many of the attitudes of the time. The punters in 1952 would react quite differently to those of today. The result is that the play is far funnier than one might expect; anyone offended needs a chill pill.
The set is very much a star; wood panelled with stone and solid as a rock; it is spot on and immediately makes you feel at home. Within it, the actors deliver the lines with complete conviction and that’s what makes it work. As Christie creates a creepy atmosphere using a Nursery Rhyme (one of her favourite devices), so she also infuses everyone with paranoia as each character accuses another of despicable acts. Back stories, skeletons in closets and red herrings abound. It’s damned good stuff!
Adam Lilley and Edith Kirkwood have little to hang their hat on with their roles as the inexperienced hoteliers, but they are entirely effective. George Naylor is excellent as the fey Christopher Wren with the irritating laugh; he provides much of the comedy in an easy-going manner. Susan Penhaligon is a suitably grumpy and bigoted Mrs Boyle and John Griffiths, the very model of an English Major. Laura Costello also makes the most of Miss Casewell, who Christie describes as ‘a manly type’ and Steven Elliott has something of a field day as the mysterious Mr Paravicini – huge fun. Martin Allanson makes for a convincing D.S. Trotter – interrogating and investigating with great determination. A first rate ensemble, doing the author proud and providing great entertainment to a packed house – isn’t that what it’s about really?
Director Gareth Armstrong ensures the play moves at a really good rate and there isn’t a lull – he also ensures there is plenty of light and shade and points up the sinister, allowing the audience to sit up, sit back and jump up occasionally.
It’s still not Agatha Christie’s best play, but it is very entertaining when performed properly as this production shows. As for whodunnit; well, as is tradition, the audience is sworn to secrecy, so you will have to find out for yourself!
SUSAN PENHALIGON – MRS BOYLE
MARTIN ALLANSON – DETECTIVE SGT TROTTER
LAURA COSTELLO – MISS CASEWELL
STEVEN ELLIOTT – MR PARAVICINI
JOHN GRIFFITHS – MAJOR METCALF
EDITH KIRKWOOD – MOLLIE RALSTON
ADAM LILLEY – GILES RALSTON
GEORGE NAYLOR – CHRISTOPHER WREN
DIRECTOR – GARETH ARMSTRONG
SOUND DESIGN – RICHARD CARTER
COSTUME SUPERVISOR – CAROLINE HANNAM