The Mousetrap—70th Anniversary Tour
Opera House, Manchester
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For years, the only opportunity for theatregoers to see The Mousetrap was during a visit to London. As such it has the status of a tourist attraction like Madame Tussauds as much as a play: something to be visited during a holiday or a seasonal treat.
This places limitations upon directors who, aware that audiences expect to see a production unchanged since it was first staged, cannot make any radical revisions. There is a talismanic approach to preserving the continuity of the play—the voice on the radio at the start belongs to the late Deryck Guyler who has voiced the role in every production of the show.
Co-directors Ian Talbot OBE and Denise Silvey manage some slight contemporary touches. The Ralstons are an interracial couple and the emotional reserve displayed by Essie Barrow as Miss Casewell, a butch figure in masculine clothes, may be due to childhood trauma. In the main, however, the objective is to create an atmosphere as close to the original production as possible. Although the set is static, the end of each scene is marked not by a blackout but by the curtain descending. Very old school.
This reverential approach is actually out of touch with Agatha Christie’s script which, it could be argued, was ahead of its time. Unusual for the immediate post-war period, it acknowledges abuse of children could occur, and the lasting impact of such trauma is apparent upon more than one character. P D James, who knew a thing or two about writing a decent thriller, maintained all the motives for murder are covered by four Ls (Love, Lust, Lucre and Loathing). Yet, based upon a true-life case, Christie’s murderer is less a villain more a tormented anti-hero motivated by the urge to take revenge upon the abusers and those who are perceived as facilitating the abuse.
In other ways, however, the play remains of its time. It originated on radio, which is apparent in the use of an opening radio voice-over to set the scene and a dependency upon lengthy expositional dialogue rather than showing actions, in the second act to cast suspicion upon characters. While there is psychological depth to the motivation of the murderer, other characters are broadly drawn bordering upon caricatures.
Mollie and Giles Ralston (Joelle Dyson and Laurence Pears) have turned their inherited property, Monkswell Manor, into a guest house but disaster strikes on their first night when a snowstorm strands guests in the hotel. The guests, Mollie ruefully acknowledges, are either odd or unpleasant including a hyperactive young man, a critical older woman, a mysterious person who seems to be putting on a foreign accent and an aloof chap claiming to be a retired major. Worse is to come—Detective Sergeant Trotter (Jack Elliot) arrives (on skis no less) to warn the guests not only is a killer on the loose, they could be present at the hotel. When the telephone lines are cut, the murder of a guest forces the detective to set a trap.
The atmosphere moves from uneasy humour to melodrama, the lighting darkens as the winter gloom approaches. The opening scenes draw humour from every member of the cast entering, due to stormy weather, dressed in a hat, coat and scarf, as worn by the murderer. There are some bright red herrings. One character describes himself as a mysterious stranger while another is given to reciting nursery rhymes, which is unfortunate as the murderer uses "Three Blind Mice" as a motto.
The Mousetrap—70th Anniversary Tour is best treated as an experience: a chance to see what the fuss is about and take part in a blast from the past.
Reviewer: David Cunningham