The Queen has just marked her 60th year of coming to the throne and the same diamond anniversary is also being marked this year by The Mousetrap, the Agatha Christie thriller that’s become a London theatrical institution. Originally produced by Peter Saunders, it is now presided over by Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen who has said, “I don’t see why it shouldn’t run for ever.”
But if the London run - notable for never discounting tickets from any source - sometimes seems to be playing (as it did the last time I saw it) to three blind mice, a theatre cat who obviously has his eye off the ball and a few dozen perplexed Japanese and American tourists, the launch of a new national tour is a quite different story - Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre, where the tour began, was packed to the rafters at its first weekday matinee.
It is being billed as the first-ever UK tour, which is not accurate, strictly speaking - prior to arriving at the West End in November 1952, it played a pre-West End tour that ran from Nottingham to Birmingham with five dates inbetween. This new tour was also first supposed to be directed by Angus Jackson, which would have been an opportunity to refresh and re-dress it but in the event, Waley-Cohen, joined as producer by Adam Spiegel, has opted instead to replicate the West End version, with Ian Watt Smith, who directed the 58th and 59th years in London, in the directorial seat. Anthony Holland’s 1965 set has also been replicated. Even one London cast member is back - Jan Waters, who first played Mrs Boyle in 2001 and has played her three times in the West End since. On the one hand, continuity is all with a show like this but on the other, does it need to be preserved in aspic? The actors for the tour have been directed to give period performances, too, delivering italicised caricatures instead of characters.
That’s a disservice to Christie, whose cleverly plotted play owes a debt to JB Priestley’s An Inspector Calls that first premiered in England six years earlier and also revolves around the arrival of a visiting police inspector trying to get to the bottom of a sudden death, and finding that more than one person is implicated in the reasons behind it.
But Christie takes her play into surprisingly adventurous territory that re-visits a case of serious child abuse from years before, and casts it as a revenge murder thriller. I’d love to see a bold production give it an entirely fresh look, but that chance has been missed here.