Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen and Adam Spiegel
Strange to think that the first stage production of The Mousetrap in 1952 coincided with the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, national institutions both, and neither of whom have missed a single beat ever since. Agatha Christie’s phenomenon, like Her Majesty, just keeps on rolling.
Liverpool Empire’s production is a crisp, pacey affair. Accents are sharper than the gin-infused cut glass decanter; the gentlemen hale and hearty, the ladies models of icy frigidity. There’s barely time to catch one’s breath, which is just how it should be.
Set in the commodious drawing room of the Monkswell Guest House, it’s not just the temperature outside that is wintry. More skeletons arrive with these guests than currently reside in Highgate cemetery. The Mousetrap is nothing if not a devilishly clever play—one where past demeanours threaten to blow apart present civility.
Attention to detail is evident from the splendid panelled walls of the set through to splendid fireplace whose warm glow hardly manages to thaw the skin of these edgy travellers. Authenticity is the name of the game. The Monkswell drawing room is a star in its own right.
Performances in this truly ensemble piece are well judged to a man and woman. Not a single RP consonant is dropped throughout the entire performance—as a masterclass in diction this production certainly takes some beating. Liverpool Empire’s sound team should also take a bow.
Although it’s no easy task highlighting a single performance Oliver Gully’s sheer exuberance in the role of Christopher Wren just about edges it. But it’s a very close call. A very experienced cast not only manage to deliver their lines with precise timing but are also able to augment their roles with glances, gestures and just sheer physical presence.
Trying to pin down the enduring appeal of this play is no easy task. Perhaps it anchors us in time, links us to the past. Larger-than-life characters and a lively, intriguing plot play their part too with the result that The Mousetrap feels much greater than the sum of its parts.
This particular production simply whizzes by. Down the years, audiences have been kept on the edge of their seats until the very final moment of this play and it’s easy to see why.
From Cluedo right through to those ubiquitous murder weekends, there’s something quintessentially English about country house murders. Taking a seat for Liverpool Empire’s production is however to enter a world that is at once familiar, yet far removed from our own.
Perhaps the enduring appeal of The Mousetrap lies partly then in escapism and partly in our yearning for nostalgia. Indeed, after over half a century has elapsed, it’s a minor revelation to discover that the script still sparkles so much.
Rather like that grand, old inhabitant of Windsor Castle, the global phenomenon that is The Mousetrap just seems to get better and better with time.
Reviewer: David Sedgwick