Picture: Johann Persson

The Mousetrap

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham


The anticipation of watching for the first time perhaps one of theatre’s best kept secrets was immense. A play that has lasted as long as the reign of Queen Elizabeth II the second and shares a peer group with the Archers must surely have stood the test of time.

Whereas both the Royal Family and the Archers have adapted to changing times and circumstances, the words written by the doyen of crime, Agatha Christie in 1952 will always be a reflection of early 1950’s middle class England.

This accentuates a problem that is inherent in theatre today – how do you create tension and suspense in an audience which has literally, at its fingertips, access to high production value crime series on Netflix and just about everywhere else.

The approach that this production has chosen to take is unique as in the first half of the play, it juxtaposes almost Comic Strip Presents (a parody of Enid Blyton’s Famous Fives adventures!) comedy with the introduction of the central theme of revenge. 

Some of the over exaggeration of characterisation added to the deliberate comedic effects which were already present in the writing… which pushed the first half to near farce – with glimpses of Larry Grayson, Kenny Everrit and Noel Coward creeping in. With even a nod to Basil Fawlty … and a misspelt hotel sign!

We meet Susan Penhaligon as the miserable, moaning Mrs Boyle along with David Alcock as the flamboyant foreigner Mr Paravicin, Lewis Chandler as the overactive architect Christopher Wren, John Griffiths as the avuncular Major Metcalf, and Saskia Vaigncourt-Strallen as the unfriendly, keeping herself to herself, Miss Casewell. They are the first guests of Nick Biadon and Harriett Hare as Giles and Mollie Ralston, who have turned their manor house into a hotel, while still to ski in to protect the guests is Geoff Arnold as DS Trotter from the local constabulary.  

However, after the introductions,  the second half was a different story as the focus shifts the superficial first impressions of the guests and hosts of the Monkswell Hotel to a dramatic unravelling of their pasts. The guests who had arrived with such small suitcases begin to unpack their immense amounts of emotional baggage.

All the elements that you would expect from Agatha Christie are there.  Her trademark situations and red herrings draw us inevitably to the wrong conclusions eventually leading us to the final surprising denouement in the drawing room.

As clichéd as this play initially appears to be, there is an underlying contemporary resonance. The emphasis of what is significant today does change. In the early 50s audiences flocked to see who did it – but today a contemporary 21st Century audience will also be thinking about not only who did it but why they did it!

The Mousetrap will probably appeal to purist Agatha Christie followers and to audiences who have had enough of stop; pause and rewind. This production can make you think (once you have got past the initial shock of the exaggerated received pronunciation at the beginning). Whilst it wasn’t what I expected - it demonstrates the capacity of live theatre to create a shared experience… that can be intriguing and meaningful.

Perhaps The Mousetrap today should be seen as not just a whodunnit but whytheydunnit!!!

I gave this a 3 star ratings … for keeping me guessing and on the edge of my seat! But also for making me think. To 16-11-19…

Liz Leck


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