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Review – The Mousetrap: 70th Anniversary Tour – Floral Pavilion New Brighton

THE Mousetrap is an institution, which had its premiere in the same year that the late Queen Elizabeth II came to the throne and, as the performance tally at St Martin’s Theatre in London fast approaches the 30,000 mark, it still reigns indefatigably as the longest running play in the world.

Words like ‘genre defining’ are frequently bandied about in relation to Christie’s work generally and to The Mousetrap in particular, and for good reason. Whodunnits are always a perennial favourite with both readers of novels and audiences of stage and screen, and Christie’s work is the archetype that set the standard.

Mollie and Giles Ralston are just opening their new guest house at Monkswell Manor and, as the first group of five punters arrive, the snow is coming down relentlessly outside. So it is that before long they are all snowed in, with the roads impassable and the telephone line down. On the wireless we keep hearing reports that a killer is on the loose, so it is with mixed feeling that the group greet the arrival of a police sergeant, who has fought his way through the snow to reassure them.

It’s the classic format where everyone is locked in for the duration and, as tempers fray, we know it’s only a matter of time before one of their number falls victim to murder. When the conveniently present detective begins to question the members of the household it becomes clear that pretty much everyone had the motive, means and opportunity. But it’s a story with more than one twist in its tail, and the obvious fun for the audience is seeing whether you can get to the solution before the final big reveal.

Very sensibly, the producers have avoided any attempt at modernising the play over the years. It is a period piece and full of old-fashioned character stereotypes, many of whom are necessarily and very deliberately played in an over-the-top manner. There’s the foppish young Christopher Wren, played with great relish and panache by Sean McCourt, The battleaxe Mrs Boyle (Catherine Shipton), for whom nothing will ever be good enough, and the offhand, businesslike Miss Casewell, delivered with splendid insouciance by Leigh Lothian. Then we have Major Metcalf, which is clearly a role that gives Todd Carty a lot of fun in playing, and the mysterious unexpected guest Mr Paravicini, played by Steven Elliott, who could give Bela Lugosi a run for his money. On press night the role of Detective Sgt. Trotter was taken by understudy Robert Rickman, and he plays it with gleeful disdain.

The cast is completed by Rachel Dawson and Michael Lyle as the long suffering Ralstons, whose opening weekend goes from bad to worse.

Directors Ian Talbot and Denise Silvey (who also direct the London production, of which this tour is a facsimile) stick with tradition in the show’s measured tread and delivery. If you think that some of the performances lean rather heavily toward caricature, remember that sooner or later one or more of them may well turn out to be not quite what they seem.

It is 39 years since I last saw this play (at St Martin’s Theatre) and I genuinely could not recall ‘whodunnit’ and I must confess that it didn’t come flooding back until the denouement unravelled itself. This is a piece of British theatrical tradition that anyone who enjoys a murder mystery needs to see at least once, so if you haven’t seen it before or, like me, saw it so long ago that it has recycled itself, This current 70th anniversary tour with its exquisite set and fine cast will not disappoint.

Star rating: 4 stars

Review by Nigel Smith

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