ACTOR Michael Fenner laughs at the suggestion that of all the suspects in Agatha Christie’s perennially popular whodunnit The Mousetrap, he is the least likely killer just because he looks so villainous.
Although he agrees that the mysterious Mr Paravicini, with a look not entirely unlike classic Doctor Who bad guy The Master, might have his sinister side, Fenner cannot confirm or deny which of the half dozen characters stranded at snowbound Monkswell Manor is a killer.
It is a 62-year tradition dating back to when The Mousetrap, the world’s longest running play, first made its appearance on London’s West End with Richard Attenborough as Detective Sergeant Potter.
"Agatha Christie was asked why it was so successful and she thought it was because she had written something for everyone," Fenner said.
"It’s a classic murder mystery, so there’s suspense. It’s a light comedy as well and it’s absolutely clean as a whistle. There’s no bad language or bad behaviour, so there’s something for everyone. And it’s really well written too."
Even these days, when television show spoilers hit the internet even while a show is being screened, Fenner praises The Mousetrap’s audience for responding to the play’s traditional plea to keep the murderer’s identity secret.
Fenner’s friends and family have shown equal restraint and stopped short of asking him if he plays the murderer.
In fact, it seems the only people willing to break the rule are London cabbies.
"According to legend, if you don’t tip the taxi drivers properly after they drop you off, they’ll shout after you: ‘‘Ere! The murderer is...’" he laughed.
Which does mean the cast of the play, whether they are playing the culprit or not, do have to do their best to look shifty.
"We all have to look as though we are guilty to some degree — otherwise there’s no play! There’d be just one suspect who’s fairly obvious and everyone would go home early," Fenner pointed out.
"What you have to do then is react to the investigation in a way that suggests you are guilty, but not obviously go ‘I’m the murderer’. It’s quite a difficult thing to do. I guess it’s a little like fly-fishing. You give the audience a little taste and then you rip the bait away, then you cast again. Every character does that. Agatha Christie is very clever the way she’s written it. We all could have done it."
Fenner is now something of a Mousetrap veteran having done a 10 month run in the West End which included the play’s Diamond Jubilee celebration.
He is now some months into the current tour and revealed that playing to non-London audiences is much more fun.
"Inevitably, a lot of our audience in the West End are tourists or don’t have English as a first language," Fenner pointed out.
"What a lot of people don’t realise about The Mousetrap is that it’s also a very funny play. On a day when we have a mainly British audience, like Boxing Day, we get huge laughs because they get the jokes, which is not what we get when we are playing to 70 per cent tourists. When we tour, the jokes play much better. The audiences get it."
This will be Fenner’s second visit to Eden Court. His first was back in the mid-1970s, shortly after the theatre opened, with Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
"I had an old Morris van that I bought in Perth and I toured it around Scotland. Happy days!" he chuckled.
He might not have the Morris on this trip, but Fenner still hopes to see a bit of the Highlands.
"Anything that’s within bus or walking distance," he promised.
"I paint as well, so instead of twiddling my thumbs or having a lie in, I’ll get up and paint landscapes."
• The Mousetrap, by Agatha Christie, is at the Empire Theatre, Eden Court, from Monday 23rd to Saturday 28th June at 8pm with Thursday and Saturday matinees at 2pm.