Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap – sixty years and still going strong

by Jeremy Miles

Things get tense in The Moustrap

Things get tense in The Moustrap

Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap: Lighthouse, Poole

It’s the longest running whodunnit in the history of British Theatre. Now after more than 60-years in the West End, The Mousetrap is making its first ever national UK tour.

Despite being unfashionable for years – during the 50s and 60s it was eclipsed in turn by angry young men, kitchen sink drama and the rise of cutting edge theatre on TV – The Mousetrap just kept on keeping on. There have been more than 25,000 performances so far.

It is classic Agatha Christie. A country house murder mystery produced at the height of the doyen of crime writer’s formidable powers. Unusually it started life not as a book, but as a half hour radio play. By 1952 Christie’s tale had become a full-scale West End theatrical drama.

The touring production arrived in Poole for a six night run on Monday and played to a packed house. Inevitably the audience was mature. Many coinsiderably older than the play itself. They loved it and I’m certain they’d have given it a standing ovation if they’d been a little more nimble on their pins. The reasons are obvious. With its tale of five rather strange guests finding themselves snowed into a creaky old guest house only to discover that the phone line has been cut and a killer is on the loose, it’s a compelling tale and a quintessential Christie thriller.

The tension mounts when intrepid detective Sergeant Trotter (Jonathan Woolf) battles his way through the blizzard on skis to warn of grave danger and fears that the murderer may be among their number. But who is it? Guesthouse proprietors Mollie and Giles Ralston (Joanna Croll and Henry Luxemburg) start seeing their residents in a different light – there’s the old soldier Major Metcalf (Chris Gilling); crabby elderly widow Mrs Boyle (Anne Kavanagh); aloof and difficult Miss Casewell (Ellie Jacob); the mysterious foreigner Mr Paravicini (Michael Fenner) and the crazy young architect who calls himself Christopher Wren (Ryan Saunders). They’re all…a bit odd. When one of them is found dead paranoia kicks in. The Ralstons even begin to suspect each other.

Set in immediate post-war Britain The Mousetrap may seem genteel by today’s standards but it deals with issues like child abuse and mental illness that were rarely aired in mainstream theatre in the early 1950s. A flurry of possible clues and false trails keep the audience guessing until the killer is finally unveiled. A strong cast, astute direction from Ian Watt-Smith, a classic set and judicious use of sound and light keeps the unquenchable spirit of this play alive. The Mousetrap, though unashamedly old fashioned, remains not only good solid entertainment but part of British theatre history.

For many the biggest mystery about The Mousetrap is how it has managed to run for 60 years when far more exciting productions regularly sink without trace. I suspect the die was cast when way back in 1958 it became the longest running West End show. From that moment on its record-breaking status became a selling point in itself. It has been a tourist attraction for years. I am of the generation that grew up with this kind of fare. As a child I was regularly taken to the local rep’. My dad appeared in many crusty, fusty melodramas. At school I was the only child in my class whose father had a make-up box. No, I didn’t get bullied. My classmates were in awe of the fact that in our house we had a source of false moustaches, wigs, sticks of greasepaint and pince-nez glasses. These things are important and one of the reasons why The Mousetrap – despite my love of modern and progressive theatre – still cuts the proverbial mustard. For me at least it exists within a very valid time-capsule.

Things get tense in The Moustrap

capsule.

*The Mousetrap plays Lighthouse at Poole until Saturday 29th March.

Jeremy Miles

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