Review: The Mousetrap

A classic taste of Great British Theatre, The Mousetrap is touring the 60th Anniversary production and I finally caught it at the Opera House Manchester. Knowing little about the plot but drawn to the romantic drama of Agatha Christie – helped by discovering one of her favourite haunts on a hike this weekend – I jumped at the chance to see this West End marvel as it graces regional stages for the first time.

It’s been a long time since I saw what I call ‘proper’ theatre. Not a musical, not a staged event, but good old fashioned prose with elaborate sets and stiff upper lips. This production did not disappoint. I longed to join the guests in the oak-panelled entrance hall, intrigued by the many doorways and convinced the heavy velvet curtains hid more than the snow-covered windows.

Despite first opening in 1952, there’s nothing dated about the script and the various political quips felt as relevant as ever. With floral upholstery and gingham aprons, the story has been played out across the last 60 years and remains as current as when it first began.

Of course, a true whodunnit must be preserved through discretion, and as such I will not give anything away about the plot. I can, however, give ample praise to the small but highly skilled cast. I feel I can’t rank the actors in any order as they were all superb, and so will anecdote their stand-out features at random.

Anna Andresen was our wonderful hostess, playing Mollie Ralston with the reserve expected of a 1950s housewife, but without the passivity that can sometimes be portrayed of that era. She was strong, defiant, and gracious, owning the elaborate lounge hall with a poise that belied her heart.

Her husband Giles was played by the brash but homely Nick Barclay. Giles is a man whose wife and house are what makes him proud, and anything to threaten this sends him into fierce fighting mode. When you throw the flighty Christopher Wren (played by Oliver Gully) into the mix, you can’t help but want to laugh and cry at this young man torn between seeing the beauty of everything and his troubled past. Gully stopped short of making a farce of his character, and instead trod the line of absurdity with ease.

Tony Boncza and Amy Downham – playing Major Metcalf and Miss Casewell respectively – may be considered slightly lesser parts. However I would have to disagree – whilst they don’t take front and centre stage on all occasions, they nevertheless provide fundamental opportunities for intrigue and second-guessing. Boncza was a constant grounding presence throughout the production, and Downham gave off a determination that was at once undoubtable and sympathetic.

The enigmatic Mr Paravcini was mastered by Gregory Cox – the main comic relief of the whole production (though from start to finish you flitted between mirth and suspense as all good murder mysteries should permit), Cox was a delight to watch. Lewis Collier’s Sgt Trotter made me empathetic to this law enforcer met with the most difficult of suspects, and he took what could become a dry character and turned it into a complex and multi-faceted performance.

Finally, Louise Jameson played the hardened Mrs Boyle, a character I disliked from the start but felt nevertheless drawn to as the play progressed. She provided another angle to the otherwise potentially sickly-sweet guest house appearance with a sharp pencil skirt and sharper tongue.

All I can say in closing is if you get the chance, see this piece of theatrical history and mastery. Whilst the cast has inevitably changed throughout the 60 year run (except the radio voice who remains the late Deryck Guyler), and the set has also adapted (whilst retaining the original clock above the mantel piece), there is no sense of momentum running out. Agatha Christie was sure it wouldn’t last more than 8 months, but I have a feeling it’s going to be around for much longer yet.

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