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Review – The Scousetrap – Royal Court Liverpool

THE Royal Court have successfully ventured into murder mystery spoof territory on a few occasions, and, with See How They Run currently sending up the marathon-running The Mousetrap on cinema screens, it’s a happy coincidence that the Court’s new show The Scousetrap riffs on the legendary play’s title while similarly having fun with a period setting.

As with The Mousetrap, the show ends with a plea for viewers not to divulge the plot, so this review will be offering no spoilers, save to say that there is a healthy (if that’s the word) body count and a suitably topsy-turvy plot twist in the closing scenes.

The script is co-written by Kevin Fearon and director Cal McCrystal, and with McCrystal on board it is no surprise that that the text is packed full with puns and one-liners and the action heavily weighted towards sight-gags, clowning and slapstick.

It is 1940, and Liverpool’s Adelphi is still a glamorous magnet for the rich and famous as the bombs of the blitz begin to fall on Liverpool. But it’s not just the bombs falling, and soon the occupants of the hotel are dropping like flies, so it’s lucky that famous sleuth Miss Inga Marble is on hand as well as the verbally challenged Inspector Gajé, or else the identity of the murderer might never be discovered.

Eithne Browne manages to play it poker-faced as Miss Marble, despite having a script laden with double entendre, and Gabriel Fleary plays Gajé with a Gallic flourish of Clouseau, which makes more than good use of all the ‘bombing’ going on to turn his innocent dialogue into a running gag.

Zain Salim (seen here recently in the re-working of Bouncers) also plays his Hotel Manager as straight as possible, trying to maintain some dignity whilst the decorum of the hotel collapses around him, although even he manages to lose his cool (and his shirt) before the night is over.

All the other players are given roles in which they are able to overact with glee. David Benson makes a blustering appearance as Lord Street (First Lord of the Admiralty) channelling Jimmy Edwards, before reappearing as the Bishop, who unaccountably – but very funnily – seems to be based on John Le Mesurier’s bashful Sergeant Wilson.

Jack Lane plays Norman, a porter, who might almost be Norman Wisdom if his part weren’t sidelined so much. Liam Tobin is larger-than-life American tycoon W. C. Groper, whilst Keddy Sutton has her work cut out as no less than 4 hotel housemaids, a task that she undertakes with visible glee.

One of the evening’s most glorious performances though comes from Helen Carter, as the wealthy and garrulous Lady Barking Dobson. Carter throws everything into the role, which has to be the best developed character out of what is, in the end, a shipload of cameos, somewhat at sea in a plot that keeps getting blown off course.

Notwithstanding the excellent cast, one of the biggest stars of the show has to be the set by designer takis, who has transformed the Royal Court’s vast stage into a spectacular reproduction of the Adelphi. Perhaps takis ought to be hired by the hotel itself to bring back some of its lost grandeur. There is some nifty and referential use of music too, from Bernard Herrmann’s ‘Vertigo’ (as used previously in the long running stage version of An Inspector Calls) to Irving Berlin’s 1933 ‘Maybe It’s Because’ given a fine vocal rendition by Carter and Tobin.

Whilst the plot of The Scousetrap might frequently meander dangerously off course, it certainly does have one (despite reservations expressed by some of the characters!) and the cheeky denouement is perhaps as close as it gets to the long-running classic whose name it plays with. This might not be quite the risqué fare that entirely resonates with the regular Royal Court audience, but it is immense fun, filled with lovely individual performances, and is presented with a real sense of style.               

Star rating: 3½ stars

Review by Nigel Smith


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