Contemporary reviews from 1952 found there was “less in it than meets the eye,” and one can only agree.
You know the schtick: a group of seemingly unrelated strangers are cornered in a remote location with adverse weather conditions. The phone line is cut. There’s a murder and a detective type to work it all out.
Which is just as well because Christie’s plot is so outrageous that the chances are you, the audience, can’t. And not because it’s so clever but because most clues are red herrings and the denouement relies upon a coincidence that strains the knicker elastic of credulity to snapping point.
In addition, the characters are hastily sketched caricatures. But there’s a sort of joy with which the cast embrace their cardboard cut-out roles. Todd Carty, erstwhile of Grange Hill and Eastenders, whose eyebrows deserve a credit of their own, plays Major Metcalf straight outta Fawlty Towers.
Leigh Lothian’s Miss Casewell is as arch and sardonic as all the best repressed lesbians whilst Shaun McCourt gives great loopy as the slightly touched and misunderstood Christopher Wren. And, if I’m not mistaken, Robert Rickman channelled his inner Rodney for his portrayal of Detective Sergeant Trotter. So, if not necessarily written as comedy, the cast certainly plays for laughs.
I think it’d be hard not to really because the production is of its time, certainly. XX-chromosomed characters are described as “terrible female!” or “the little woman” and Mrs Boyle rues the lack of “staff”.
If these attitudes aren’t sent up, they’d be hard to swallow. But I wonder why the play is not brought into the 21st Century? Christie herself never expected the play to run for more than 8 months and with a plot predicated upon sadly ever-present child abuse why has the work become a museum piece?
It could be the stipulations of the licence, of which there are a few. Or maybe it’s just that the directors believe the audience prefer a slice of period pie?
So, it’s not the best piece of detective fiction; it’s not even Christie’s best piece of detective fiction – but it is the longest continually running play, of any flavour, of all time, which makes it A Thing. And nobody is about to break this tradition.
Preposterously plotted, clumsily characterized, The Mousetrap is nonetheless a British institution and there are at least two twists in the mouse’s tale. The 70th Anniversary Tour tagline challenges, HaveYouDunnit? If it’s on your bucket list, this whole-heartedly period production is a great opportunity to tick it off on your doorstep at the Floral Pavilion.
Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap 70th Anniversary Tour is at the Floral Pavilion until Saturday 11 November 2023.
Image: Matt Crockett