An old-fashioned murder

Be my guest: Bruno Langley and Jemma Walker as Giles and Mollie Ralston

The Mousetrap

Wolverhampton Grand

****

THE biggest mystery this play poses is how it has managed to keep going so long for in truth the plot fairly creaks along – which is not to say it is not an enjoyable experience, for from it.

The cast of eight are all superb, not a weak link among them, while the realistic panelled lounge set looks as solid as any country house in the land which is more than can be said for the plot which has more holes than a colander – but there is still much to admire in this production which, as in many Agatha Christie books and plays is a bit like a dramatized game of Cluedo.

We have Bruno Langley and Jemma Walker as Giles and Mollie Ralston, a young couple who have ianherited Monkswell Manor from Mollie's aunt and are about to open it as a guest house with the first guests arriving soon after the curtain rises – and soon after the radio announcer tells us that there has been a murder in London.

We have the cantankerous Mrs Boyle, fed a diet of moans by Elizabeth Power, Christopher Wren, the aspiring and somewhat effeminate architect, played by Steven France, who flutters around like a manic butterfly taking an interest in anything and everybody.

Graham Seed gives us a dose of solid, good humoured common sense as Major Metcalf while Clare Wilkie is a rather masculine Miss Casewell.

Clare Wilkie as Miss Casewell who lives in Spain but is back in England with unfinished business . . . suspicious or what!!!!!

The weather is appalling, blizzards and drifts cutting off guest house and guests and amid the arctic wastes pops up the obligatory foreigner, Mr Paravicini, played with slightly sinister good humour by Karl Howman. We all know, or at least Christie audiences of 1952 all knew, when the Second World War was still fresh in the memory, that foreigners with foreign accents were congenitally dodgy – unless they were Belgian and called Poirot of course.

 His Rolls has overturned in a snow drift leaving him stranded . . . or has it.

A mysterious phone call from the police is followed by Det Sgt Trotter arriving on skis to warn the owners and guests that the murdered woman in London was not who everyone thought she was.

Scotland Yard had discovered she had just been released from jail after she and her husband had ill-treated three youngsters left in their care leading to the death of the youngest boy.

The couple had lived on a nearby farm. Her husband had died in jail, she had just been released and then murdered and we now know that a brother and sister of the dead boy are on the loose.

The killer had mentioned three blind mice and the woman was No.1. Monkswell Manor was next on the London killer's list and Trotter, a one man flying squad played by Bob Saul who rushes around, warning the killer could already be there.

When the telephone line is cut the manor is cut off completely from the outside world and the questioning and doubts start as the secrets of who and what the guests and owners really are starts to emerge.

Of course there is another murder when, in true Christie style, the killer switches off all the lights to carry out his deadly deed. He even manages to switch off the roaring log fire which shows a supernatural touch, and, with proof the murderer is amongst them, the recriminations and accusations fly about like bats at twilight – until finally, we discover who the real killer is.

As is tradition DS trotter does his “Evening All” bit at the end asking those in the audience never to reveal the name of the killer a ploy which has kept the play in business for 60 years and still going strong – although if you haven't worked it out long before the reveal you must have spent too much time in the bar before the start.

In any case it would hardly take a Poirot to find the whole plot and the ending from a cursory glance on the internet, Wikipedia has it there for anyone who cares to look, which is a great shame, destroying a tradition for no purpose which all seems rather mean spirited.

This is the first tour, a 60th anniversary meander around the countryside although I suspect it might be the 75th or even century anniversary before it tours again.

This stopped being merely a play years ago and has become a theatrical institution and a valuable part of the tourist industry in London.

It started life as a short radio play, then a short story before emerging as a play, opening first in Nottingham in 1952 and reaching the West End in November that year.

By the time it broke the British theatre record almost five years later – shows did not have particularly long runs until relatively recently – it was established as one of the things to see in London along with Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guard.

Graham Seed as the rather quiet and remarkable affable Major Matcalf

The radio play was based on the true story of Dennis O'Neill who was 12 when he died at the hands of foster parents on a farm in Minsterly in Shropshire in 1945 and Christie gave instructions that her short story would not be published until the play's run ended.

She also stipulated that no film could be made until six months after the end of the run, not that she was expecting the delay to be quite so long – having told impresario Peter Saunders she expected it to run eight months tops. She was out by 60 years – so far.

This is an excellent production beautifully set and with excellent lighting – apart from the log fire and director Ian Watt-Smith has done an excellent job in playing it straight. There are laughs, quite a lot, but all in context. This is no spoof or send-up. It is played with a straight bat with a set of modern actors taking on a play set in the early 1950s.

The plot creaks along  but the cast and production sparkle  - and this is a chance to see a piece of history, a theatrical institution which will probably never have an equal, right here on your doorstep. To 01-06-13.

Roger Clarke

The title, incidentally, like  our own, Behind The Arras, comes from Shakespeare's Hamlet. Three Blind Mice had already been used as a title for a play before the war so The Mousetrap was suggested by Christie's son-in-law Anthony Hicks.It is the name Hamlet gives to the play within a play in Act III ii.

King Claudius: What do you call the play?

Ham.  The Mouse-trap. Marry, how? Tropically. This play is the image of a murder done in Vienna: Gonzago is the duke's name; his wife, Baptista. You shall see anon; 'tis a knavish piece of work: but what of that? your majesty and we that have free souls, it touches us not: let the galled jade wince, our withers are unwrung.

Meanwhile from the scullery . . .

THIS famous play, on tour for its diamond anniversary, involves one mystery that even master crime writer Agatha Christie, couldn't explain. Why it lasted for 60 years in West End and is still going strong.

The brilliant author had forecast it would last eight months, and now its the turn of large Black Country audiences to make up their own minds about how good the play is and try to unravel the secret of its success.

Maybe in the early days the set was too good to take down, because it is a stunning construction, representing the oak-paneled living room of the former Monkswell Manor, converted into a guest house. It looks so solid and realistic, though the only feature to survive since The Mousetrap first opened is the mantelpiece clock.

The plot is cleverly arranged, beginning with a slice of tongue-in-cheek humour when, after a radio report of a murder in London and a suspect seen wearing a dark overcoat, light scarf, and felt trilby hat, the first three people to arrive in the house all fit the description perfectly.

The cast are superb, led by Bob Saul, playing the remarkably articulate Detective Sgt Trotter who arrives at the guest house on skis because nearby roads have been closed by a blizzard. He is investigating a possible link to the killing, but is soon embroiled in a second murder.

Steven France (Christopher Wren), Bruno Langley (Giles Ralston), Jemma Walker (Mollie Ralston) Karl Howman (Mr Paravicini), Elizabeth Power (Mrs Boyle), Graham Seed (Major Metcalf) and Clare Wilkie (Miss Casewell) complete a terrific cast.

As usual, after accepting warm applause, Saul steps forward and urges the audience not to reveal who-dunnit. To 01-06-13

Paul Marston 

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