Originally opening in London in 1952, Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is the longest running show of any kind in the history of British theatre and, as such, has a lot to live up to. Thankfully, it soars above all expectations, delighting the audience from the moment the curtain comes up until the climactic revelation of the murderer.
The lights come up on a fantastically crafted stage, framed to depict the spacious great hall of the newly opened Monkswell Manor Guest House. With wood-paneled walls surrounding a large, traditional window, comfortable seating and a wireless on the sideboard, the set designers have managed to create a near perfect replication of a large, draughty mid-twentieth century home-turned-hotel.
Mollie and Giles Ralston, the proprietors of Monkswell Manor, arrive on set to await their first residents. However, once the five guests arrive amid the heavily settling snow it fast becomes clear that things are not destined to run smoothly with the House in near to total isolation by the end of the first evening. The arrival of Sergeant Trotter to warn of impending danger – followed by a murder – sends the atmosphere in the House from palpably tense to frantic suspicion, whilst the audience is left trying to work out ‘whodunit’. The humorous asides, often contributed by the oddball character of Mr Paravicini (Michael Fenner), delivered amidst the growing tension helped to keep the audience on their toes throughout.
Of note, were the performances of Stephen Yeo and Helen Clapp in the roles of Christopher Wren and Mollie Ralston respectively. Their interaction and the development of their characters’ relationship throughout the performance was spectacular. The audience felt and understood the close bond, instinctive trust and protection that was developing between the two.
Also due commendation was the clever use of lighting throughout the show. The pitch black whilst murder was committed at the front of the stage was both exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure; in contrast, the more subtle lighting changes in other scenes tended to cleverly reflect the characters’ feelings on stage or the potential danger they might be in.
There was no chink in the armour during this play, no moment was dull with every scene contributing significantly to the big reveal at the close. It is a real indication of the captivating nature of this show and the finesse to which it was performed that the only conversation overheard during the interval was speculation about the identity of the murderer and possible motives for each character. The Mousetrap is not just for murder mystery enthusiasts, it is a must see for all.