Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
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The Mousetrap is somewhat a national institution—as its unchallenged seven-decade run testifies. The ‘Whodunnits of Whodunnits’ by the grande dame herself, Agatha Christie. I’d be foolish to think that many a reviewer hadn’t gone before me with their considered opinion and the production will undoubtedly outlive us all, so I offer my twopenneth in the hope that I’m not struck down by the theatre gods for blasphemy (no spoilers here, though—promise).
Famously modest about her work, Christie never claimed to write great literature, but professed merely to “entertain” and, as a remit goes, the play absolutely meets it obligations to an audience. Today’s theatregoer is spoilt for choice, and it’s stating the obvious to point out how much the world and attitudes have moved on since 1952. The Mousetrap exists, as many national institutions do, as a time capsule, steadfast, unmoved and unchanged by the sands of time.
The ensemble cast of this, the 70th anniversary tour, includes Catherine Shipton (Mrs Boyle) and Todd Carty (Major Metcalf), both absolute screen icons in their respective TV roles in Casualty and Grange Hill and Eastenders. Their arrivals on stage at the remote Monkswell Manor guest house were met with a gentle ripple of fond recognition by the audience—and full admiration of the Major’s rather splendid facial hair too, I would imagine.
Together with five other strangers, they suddenly find themselves at the centre of a murder investigation and wondering who the killer’s next victim will be. For me, it evoked that almost hiraeth feeling of a rainy, weekend afternoon as a child when you were presented with the choice of either the football (ugh) or a black and white film on BBC2. Young me, lying on the living room carpet, hands on chin, listening to the clipped RP accents of the characters and wondering if people actually ever spoke like that in real life. Admittedly, my grandma, who was from Bolton, did put on quite a posh telephone voice when it suited her.
Brushing aside a few first night hiccups in a new venue, the cast’s affection for the tale was evident. Shaun McCourt’s Christopher Wren is unbridled camp, with a touch of the unhinged, while mysterious Miss Casewell (Leigh Lothian), tailored to perfection in her slacks, issues crushing eye-rolls in the face of the increasingly sinister scene before her. I don’t mind admitting I was a little bit in awe of Steven Elliott’s mysterious Mr Paravicini (try saying that after three merlots), but without dropping any spoilers, I was left wanting about his role in proceedings as the proverbial credits rolled.
Despite having never seen the play before, I knew that, aside from its longevity, it’s ending is a famously closely guarded secret—a pledge which the audience is asked to keep at the curtain call—but I accidentally nailed the killer’s identity in jest during the interval. And it was that which made me wonder if it was all a little too clichéd for me. But then, perhaps it’s only a cliché today because so many playwrights and television writers have built the modern crime drama on Christie’s legacy?
I’m not taking any chances with the wrath of those theatre gods though—so, as you were.
Reviewer: Rachael Duggan