The Mousetrap

Agatha Christie
St Martin's Theatre

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Even if the only Mousetrap that they had seen is Shakespeare's play within a play in Hamlet, everybody knows a few facts about what has become a West End legend.

The Mousetrap has been running forever or at least for 56 years, the last 35 at St Martin's Theatre. It is a country house murder mystery of the type that Agatha Christie excelled in writing, with a cast that included Richard Attenborough and Sheila Sim when it opened and changes annually. It goes without saying that the play must also have that special something to have survived for one year, let alone over half a century.

The one other aspect that is equally important was related by the murderer at the end of the show. He/she announced that one of the obligations of every audience member is to keep his/her (the murderer's) identity a mystery forever. It is a great credit of generations of theatregoers that nobody ever reveals the critical secret that ensures the play's longevity.

St Martin's Theatre is small and comfortable with lots of dark wood, perfectly designed for a play set in the 1950s. On stage is a re-creation of the kind of drawing room popular on stages of the time. This belongs to a Manor turned guesthouse run by a young couple, Mollie and Giles played by Georgina Bouzova and James Daniel Wilson.

They have recently married and think that it would be a splendid idea to turn an inheritance into a genteel business. Unfortunately, a murderer is at large and must be one of the eight people snowed in on the kind of night that inspired Miss Christie to pen yet another thriller.

Their guests are a rum bunch to say the least. In age order, Mrs Boyle is grumpiness personified thanks to the talents of Jennifer Wilson. Graham James as Major Metcalf is close to invisible but then again, maybe he is a murderer? Mr Paravicini is given an appalling Anglo-Italian accent by John Fleming who does however inject charm, while Bob Saul is a very young Detective Sergeant Trotter, sent in to flush out the fleeing killer of a London woman.

Crispin Shingler probably tries too hard to entertain as an architect with an unlikely name, Christopher Wren. He embodies a mystery that Miss Christie raises but in all the excitement forgets to resolve. Last but by no means least is Laura Penneycard in the part of Miss Casewell, a forceful young lady who would be anybody's match (and not a bad catch in the parlance of the time).

Throughout a very gentle couple of hours, Agatha Christie plays cat and mouse with her audience, successively putting each of these trapped visitors in the frame. The key to the play's success is the desire to second-guess the writer and pick the murderer long before their identity is revealed. Probably more by luck than judgement, that is exactly what this critic achieved but this did not detract from his enjoyment.

Miss Christie was never too strong on characterisation and The Mousetrap is hardly high art but it should survive this depression, as it has so many in the past. This is a consequence of a fantastic worldwide reputation, some spirited acting especially from each of the female members of this cast, perhaps because they have the best parts, and the pleasure that human race derives in trying to resolve a puzzle that is as intriguing as the most complicated Sudoku.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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