Theatre Royal, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne
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Many who may not attend theatre will have found it hard not to have heard of The Mousetrap. Over 29,000 performances globally from London to Singapore, Canada and Australia and over 10 million people seeing it in London alone make it difficult to miss—it even has its own web site. Agatha Christie's murder mystery play premièred in 1952 and, apart from a 14-month closure due to the pandemic, has run continuously ever since.
The lights dim to mysterious music and the suspense and audience anticipation is palpable. The curtains open to reveal the period sitting room of Monkswell Manor Guest House, deep in the countryside, run by the newly married couple Mollie and Giles Ralston. Report of a London murder is heard on the radio as Mollie enters preparing for their first guests. The four guests arrive followed by an unexpected gent, apparently seeking refuge from the snowstorm which overturned his car.
The first half, as tradition has it, sets the scene introducing the characters including a detective who appears in connection with the London murder. The second half unearths surprising secrets as hidden truths are revealed about the seven strangers who are snowed in and cut off from the world. Tension and suspicion builds as each are interrogated to discover the murderer is one of them.
Joelle Dyson as Mollie and Laurence Pears as Giles, the guesthouse owners, give good, natural, largely understated performances, which contrasts well with the other extreme characters. The first guest, Christopher Wren played by Elliot Clay, makes an exuberant entrance, instantly injecting humour and liveliness into the situation; Clay is swiftly followed by Gwyneth Strong playing Mrs Boyle, who, in sharp contrast, is not a woman to be tampered with, finding fault with everything. Todd Carty playing the regimental Major Metcalf, Essie Barrow as the somewhat androgynous Miss Casewell along with Kieran Brown as the ‘strange foreign’ gentleman Mr Paravicini, complete the guests, who all portray larger-than-life characters, adding great variety and plenty of opportunity for humour.
All the actors give tightly controlled performances establishing their characters immediately, playing off each other well. The directors, Ian Talbot and Denise Silvey, use the stage creatively, keeping a good pace and attention to detail. Subtle touches, such as when the snowstorm worsens each new arrival has more ‘snow’ on them and their bags, the clattering of the window when opened with the outside gale, the excellent lighting effects (Sonic Harrison) and sound by Jasbir Puri all add to the atmosphere and tension.
The world’s bestselling novelist, Christie, originally wrote the story as a short radio play entitled Three Blind Mice for Queen Mary as a birthday present. It is easy to see how its popularity has grown, having all the unexpected revelations, twists and turns of a classic murder mystery, a true blueprint for the traditional ‘whodunit’. Hundreds of famous actors have played the parts but The Guardian’s Stephen Moss was correct when he wrote that the true stars were the play and the author.
As part of the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the world’s longest running play, it will tour 70 venues giving more audiences an opportunity to see it. The tour began in Nottingham, where it first premièred and Newcastle Theatre Royal is the 12th venue where it runs until Saturday. Christie plays cat and mouse with the audience but who does not like to correctly solve the puzzle before it is revealed? Who does not like to guess the murderer for themselves? But as the audience are asked to guard the murderer’s identity to preserve the play's outcome, I am sworn to secrecy, so if you wish to know the answer, you will have to go and see the play.
Reviewer: Anna Ambelez