The Empire Theatre
FOR its prolonged 60th anniversary tour, the longest running play in the world manages to run as far as the Highlands.
Which ironically would be a more fitting setting for the snowbound guest house where Agatha Christie sets her perennially popular play than the gentle slopes of Berkshire, only an hour from London by train as one of the characters informs us in an alibi-breaking bit of dialogue.
Still, a snowbound setting is useful for a whodunnit — as Christie also demonstrated in Murder On The Orient Express.
Once the telephone line is cut, there is no way of checking if the inhabitants of Monkswell Manor are who they claim to be, no way to leave and no way to arrive, other than the pair of skis which bring Detective Sergeant Trotter (Jonathan Woolf) onto the soon to be crime scene.
There is no Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot, although there are echoes of both in the tweedy Mrs Boyle (Anne Kavanagh) and extravagant foreigner Mr Paravicini (played with theatrical relish by Michael Fenner).
With no familiar characters, suspicion is free to roam over everybody on the stage — the hyperactive man-child Christopher Wren (Ryan Saunders), the mannish and mysterious Miss Casewell (Ellie Jacob), stiff upper-lipped Major Metcalf (Chris Gilling) and their naive young hosts Mollie and Giles Ralston (Joanna Croll and Henry Luxemburg).
Inevitably at the age of 62, the joints creak a bit in terms of dialogue and plotting, even if there are some pleasantly witty touches. These include the first of a positive shoal of red herrings/clues as a character picks some clothes from a chair blissfully unaware of a radio newsreader reeling off a description of a murder suspect’s attire exactly matching what is in her arms.
The identity of the killer may come as a surprise, but there are other things you can rely on from a stage thriller of this vintage, characters who seem to go out of their way to make themselves appear suspicious, others so two dimensional that they struggle to make an impression and a dead body before the interval curtain.
At the heart of The Mousetrap is a story of child abuse and neglect that sadly remains all too topical, but that hint of something grittier from Dame Agatha is quickly dispensed with. The background only serves to provide a motive and as is usual in the Queen of Crime’s domain, order is restored to middle-class life once the murder is solved. The final image is of a minor domestic crisis while one character, who just minutes before was on the point of death, makes the quickest trauma recovery in history.
Still, the cast play it professionally and it makes for an evening of undemanding entertainment with the added play along element of spotting the killer before that final reveal.
Just remember the golden rule of The Mousetrap: no-one talks about the killer in The Mousetrap.
After all, why should we spoil it for the next 60 years worth of audiences?
• The Mousetrap continues at Eden Court until Saturday 28th June.