Old timer still catching them

 Karl Howman as the rather affected and vaguely foreign Mr Paravacini, Jemma Walker as Mollie Ralston and Bruno Langley as Giles Ralston Pictures: Helen Maybanks

The Mousetrap

New Alexandra Theatre

***

IT IS impossible; it seems, for anyone to be able to review The Mousetrap without declaring its provenance as the longest running play ever, with well over 25,000 performances in its 60 years of existence.

It's a fact that would surprise even its author Agatha Christie who famously, in 1952, gave it eight months. So in celebration of reaching an almost pensionable age it's been granted its first ever national tour.

What must be remembered is that when the play opened in the West End of London in the fifties , the format of the parlour room, country house, murder mystery would have been highly original and the collection of ` well to do ‘ characters and their social musings would have been very topical .

If you were to take it all seriously then some of the middle class comments about `foreigners ‘having a spare tyre full of Swiss Watches and anyone who breaks the formal protocol of social engagement as being `odd', might now seem awkward.

However in truth The Mousetrap is now nothing more than a gentle timepiece that has become a high entry on the Bucket list of theatre attendances, so don't be surprised if the biggest mystery of the evening is how it has lasted so long.  For that reason it's more of ` how did it ‘rather than a ` who dun it ‘?

The play is set in a large country house, 30 miles from London and in the depths of a winter blizzard.  A young couple, The Ralston's, Mollie (Jemma Walker) and Giles (Bruno Langley) have inherited the property and open its doors for the first time as a guest house to an assortment of strangers.

With a murder having happened the day before and the guests now all snowbound, a young policemen arrives in the storm. He brings his suspicions that the house is about to become another murder scene and of course, just as the curtain falls on the first act, he is right. 

Clare Wilkie as the slightly strange, even for Christie characters, aloof and somewhat masculine Miss Casewell

Although there is a final twist it's pretty easy to spot and unfortunately the murder itself is about as frightening an experience as a light bulb going out and in fact that is the way it is actually staged.

When the guests are gathered for the inevitable police inquest no one seems that bothered that there has been `murder most foul' , with guests sitting comfortably on the sofa where the murder actually happened.

It's this sort of casual take on the whole murder scene that lets it down and the younger members of  this cast don't seem to quite capture or understand the era or connect with their characters.

It fell to the older players Graham Seed as Major Metcalf, Elizabeth Power as Mrs Boyle and Karl Howman as Mr Paravicini to add some quiet rustic authenticity to the panelled roomed setting.

Another issue I had, which is a pet hate of mine, is the poor use of sound effects. Sitting in the dress circle in a full theatre, which is some distance from the stage, and with a less than silent audience around me, trying to hear dialogue whilst it being buried by the noise of a howling artic wind was a challenge. We can see the snows falling outside, the guests talk about it, there's snow on the coats, OK we get it, now turn the gale force effects down or preferably off.

The play traditionally ends with a request to the audience to not reveal the murderer to anyone which was at Christie's insistence as reviewers of the time would often publically reveal the plot facts.

That request has perhaps become the singular fact of how this play has lasted so long.  It seems the thousands of theatre goers over the years have created a greater mystery in the act of going to see the play than was ever written into the script.

One original condition was that no film version could ever be made until six months after its theatre close.  With the phenomenon of it now being as big of a tourist attraction as Trafalgar Square it's pretty certain that you won't be seeing it on the screen in this lifetime, if ever.  

This is set to be a popular national tour as it is a rare opportunity to see it without suffering the congestion charge or a tedious journey to London. For that fact alone it is no mystery that after all this time, the 60 year old cheese is still catching them. To 09-02-13

Jeff Grant 

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