The Mousetrap – New Theatre, Oxford
“It is the sort of play you can take anyone to. It’s not really frightening. It’s not really horrible. It’s not really a farce, but it has a little bit of all these things and perhaps that satisfies a lot of different people.” – Agatha Christie.
When The Mousetrap opened in the West End in 1952 neither Agatha Christie nor the producer, Peter Saunders, had very high hopes for it. 60 years on and the play is still running in the West End, and now there is a touring version to celebrate its huge success visiting theatres throughout Britain.
The play is set at Monkswell Manor, just opening to admit its first paying guests. Owned by young couple Mollie and Giles Ralston, married for a year and desperate for their new venture to be a success, with the addition of a snow storm the scene is set, ready for the strange assortment of guests to arrive.
Helpfully the radio informs us of a murder in London earlier that same day, with the description of the suspect vague – and of course it could match most of our newly arrived guests or even the hosts themselves. Then to complicate things further a young police sergeant arrives at the guest house to investigate as the address was found at the scene of the murder, implying that the murderer may strike again at any moment.
The set is impressive, with several entrances and exits and a corridor and staircase built at the back of the set. Snow falls outside the grand window and a lit fire in the hearth provides the atmosphere needed.
The production itself is reliable rather than overly thrilling. The performances are good but with most Agatha Christie stories it’s the plot that matters and with very little character development it’s hard to care about any of them.
The stand out performance comes from Ryan Saunders as Christopher Wren, always causing mischief and poking fun. His dialogue with Mollie (Joanna Croll) providing a glimpse of a relationship in a play where other interaction between characters is minimal.
Anne Kavanagh as the cantankerous Mrs Boyle also helps provide much comedy with her impossible to please attitude.
The mysterious foreign visitor Mr Paravicini was also a brilliantly created character and Karl Howman was impressive in the role.
At the end of the play we are asked by a cast member to “keep the secret” of who the murderer is and it does feel like a privilege to have joined the club. Simply a very enjoyable evening’s entertainment.