Even if you haven’t seen Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap before, I’m sure that you’ll know it’s the longest running play in history. First performed in 1952, it has never ceased to captivate audiences.
I knew this fact from my pub quiz knowledge but had never seen it performed. So, when I found out that The Mousetrap was touring to York from London’s West End, I leapt at the chance to see Christie's genius on its 70th anniversary.
The play by the Queen of Crime is a murder mystery. This Adam Spiegel Production, also directed by him, follows the plot of a group of strangers staying at Monkswell Manor guest house during a snowstorm, where they soon discover a murderer is amongst them.
Monkswell Manor is owned by Mollie Ralston, played by Joelle Dyson, and her husband Giles, played by Laurence Pears. The first guests include a young and flamboyant Christopher Wren, performed by Elliot Clay, and then the curmudgeon and former magistrate Mrs Boyle, played convincingly by Gwyneth Strong.
In contrast to the famous architect, Christie’s Christopher Wren likes to escape to the kitchen to cook up Spanish omelettes while the other guests settle in. Elliot Clay was a delight and a constant source of laughter throughout the play – perhaps begrudgingly for some of the other guests such as Giles who saw him as a “twerp”.
Next enters the brusque Miss Casewell, acted by Essie Barrow, and the mysterious Mr Paravicini, performed by Kieran Brown. As the only guest to arrive without a booking, Mr Paravicini seems suspicious from the start, yet he adds humour with his dodgy accent and eccentricities. However, there was still something sinister about Paravicini, especially his repeated sing-song of Three Blind Mice which haunts the play. Disturbingly, the significance of this children’s nursery rhyme to the play remains unclear until the end.
Major Metcalf, played by Nicholas Maude, is the last guest. Importantly, typical to its genre, the snowy weather isolates all of the guests in the former Berkshire manor house. Each one therefore becomes a suspect.
It’s up to Detective Sergeant Trotter, played by Joseph Reed, (who can only access the house by skiing) to carry out an investigation. Comically, Trotter’s skis are swung back and forth as he makes his introduction to the guests – he only misses the heads of Mollie and Giles Ralston by a fraction as they duck to avoid any blows to the head from his skis.
Sergeant Trotter has come to Monkswell as he believes the suspect of a recent murder in London is amongst the guests. This subplot intertwines comedically well as Trotter’s suspect was seen leaving the crime scene wearing a long coat and hat, as we are told on the Gramophone.
Such a description just so happens to be the attire of every guest at Monkswell Manor. Clearly, Christie is keeping us all on our toes, showing how anyone could be the murderer.
As the investigation progresses, secrets are revealed and soon each guest’s motive is uncovered. The tension builds until the play’s dramatic conclusion, where the murderer is finally revealed in a surprising twist ending. It’s this twist that makes the Christie's whodunnit world-famous. With many red herrings along the way, the audience is kept in the dark until the end.
The set accompanies the performance well. Not only does it put us in a post-war era, where it’s the norm for big old manor houses to turn into guest houses, but it also places Christie's craft in the crime genre: each of the guests are allocated rooms, such as the red room, which soon starkly resembles a Cluedo board game.
Adam Spiegel, the producer of The Mousetrap, tells us of Christie's continual record-breaking engagement at the St Martin’s Theatre in the West End, where it was first performed in 1952.
Amazingly it has been performed there over 28,500 times, selling over ten million tickets. However, after being enthralled by the production at York Grand Opera Theatre it’s not hard to believe such statistics.
Trotter’s firm request at the end of the play to not give the game away, revealing the murderer, helps to keep Christie's play alive. Indeed, to this day theatregoers like me have no idea whodunnit if they haven’t seen the play before, and afterwards have no intention to spoil it for anyone else.
The Mousetrap is on tour to over 70 towns and cities throughout the UK and Ireland until February 2024 for its anniversary, so don’t miss out on the opportunity to escape into Christie's playful 1950s milieu.