Grand Theatre, Blackpool
Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap can still spring a surprise—on stage, and in its ability to pretty well fill this theatre on opening night—even after its stately 67 years as the world’s longest-running drama.
It’s now on its second national tour, besides still running continuously in London’s West End, and you don’t have to spend long in its company to realise why. It’s a miniature masterpiece of its kind.
A classic whodunnit murder mystery; a set of clearly-labelled characters, all with RP accents worn throughout (apart from the token creepy continental one!); an English country house setting; and all steeped in its original post-war location.
You could be playing a full-size game of Cluedo, or eavesdropping on someone’s particularly well-dressed murder mystery dinner party.
More than once you’re reminded of Christie’s sense of macabre humour threaded around the dark nursery rhyme of the Three Blind Mice—with items like the repeated use of the description of the murderer’s clothing. But if the characters are all slightly overdrawn then that’s exactly as they should be.
They come together in the snowbound setting of the Monkswell Manor guesthouse. Each is almost solemnly introduced, complete with snow on their felt hats, as they check in. Pretty quickly you’re ranking them in order of suspicion—or maybe even in the order you might cheerfully murder them yourself?
It’s all elegantly acted, and with genuine conviction, by an ensemble cast headed by a virtually-unrecognisable Susan Penhaligon as the dour dowager Mrs Boyle.
As the investigating police sergeant Trotter, Geoff Arnold tends slightly to live up to his character’s name by rushing through the plot exposition, but by that time everything’s careering along nicely anyway.
There’s not a whiff of social realism, verbatim theatre, or some avant garde director’s ‘theatrical concept’—instead just an honest-to-goodness, engrossing stage thriller from another age.
All hail The Mousetrap, but please, please don’t give away the ending...
It runs here until Saturday, and probably into infinity after that.
Reviewer: David Upton