The Mousetrap review at Northcott Theatre, Exeter – ‘Agatha Christie’s classic mystery on tour’
The Mousetrap is not just another Agatha Christie whodunnit. It’s a London institution (and, by extension, a tourist attraction), akin to Madame Tussauds or the Houses of Parliament. As a result, for a long time its producers have been reluctant to send it on tour or adapt it for film or television, out of a fear this might dent its iconic status.
That changed with its 60th anniversary excursion seven years ago. Now it’s heading out on tour again, playing at 30 leading regional theatres until October (with more venues to be added).
The first thing to say in its favour is that director Gareth Armstrong and his eight-strong cast studiously avoid any suggestion of sending Christie up. The situation may be hackneyed (a snow-bound guest house with a murderer among those present), as indeed is a fair whack of the dialogue, but the cast make sure it is a funny and mysterious experience, despite leaning on occasion towards the dreaded double-takes (which might work on screen, but play less well on stage).
Most importantly of all, they land the shoal of red herrings that make this such a quintessential Christie offering, as each of the suspects reveals his or her troubled past in a series of one-to-one sessions with a police sergeant who conveniently arrives on skis. It might be a far cry from Line of Duty, but the clipped period delivery is essential in capturing The Mousetrap’s ‘suspended in time’ atmosphere, which is a huge part of its appeal. The excerpts from radio shows of the 1950s remain a clever touch, though some of the histrionics threaten to overwhelm the tension.
In a play that is all about character development and plot, Gwyneth Strong (of Only Fools and Horses fame) excels as the snooty and fiercely critical Mrs Boyle, while David Alcock and John Griffiths bring a wealth of experience to the roles of sinister late arrival Mr Paravicini and archetypal old buffer Major Metcalf.
Lewis Chandler is cheekily camp as architect Christopher Wren, Geoff Arnold is restlessly inquisitive as police sergeant Trotter, and Saskia Vaigncourt-Strallen is more prickly than a hedgehog as the inscrutable Miss Casewell. Meanwhile, Nick Biadon and Harriett Hare lend a welcome younger touch as first-time hotel owners Mr and Mrs Ralston, although neither are above suspicion.
The set is an exact copy of the one at the St Martin’s Theatre, the show’s home in the West End, even including the original 1950s mantelpiece clock. As the curtain falls, the audience is sworn to secrecy over the identity of the murderer – as they have been at every performance since 1952.
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