I’ve never read an Agatha Christie that I haven’t loved, but I’ve seen a couple of very creaky and overdone film and television adaptations (as well as some excellent versions) so I was intrigued to see this renowned play.
Playing for 70 years, The Mousetrap is famously the longest running play on The West End. Its ongoing popularity has made it a cultural institution, and it has become as much a part of tourists’ “must see” lists as The Tower of London.
It could be easy to dismiss The Mousetrap because of its popularity. In fact, the reason it has run for so long is because this breezy, witty, excellent play is also thoroughly entertaining.
Director Robyn Nevin’s production is both exuberant and highly disciplined, full of comic business. It captures the spirit of the period without being too mannered. She has assembled an assured and very talented cast, the highlight being the inimitable Gerry Connolly, playing the waggish Mr Paravicini. It is a real pleasure to watch meticulously developed, comic character-acting from Connolly. When Paravicini says that he has everything he needs for his stay in his tiny doctor’s bag, it is said with such a devilish twinkle in his eye that he could mean absolutely anything. It’s very funny, but also steeped in ambiguity. He has the audience thinking a thousand things at once. Is he a diabolical murderer, or simply a charming old fellow? Audiences should go for the treat of his performance alone.
The Mousetrap has all the delicious elements of an Agatha Christie Murder Mystery. A young couple, Molly and Giles Ralston (Anna O’Byrne and Alex Rathgeber) have just opened a small hotel in an old Gothic mansion (with, as you would expect, numerous passages, staircases and cellars). As they welcome their first group of guests, the manor is snowed in by a terrible storm … and then the local sergeant arrives on skis to announce that there is a murderer in the house.
The guests are a bunch of eccentric toffs. Mystery and suspicion surrounds each one of them. There’s the young architect, Christopher Wren, played with superb comic buffoonery by Laurence Boxhall. His comic business going in and out of the various doors leading into the sitting room sets up his character beautifully. There’s also the retired sourpuss, Mrs Boyle (Geraldine Turner); the quintessential good sort, Major Metcalf (Adam Murphy); the young, independent feminist, Miss Casewell (Charlotte Friels); and the mysterious European, Mr Paravicini.
Tom Conroy is terrific as the cool-headed Detective Sergeant Conroy, picking up on clues and challenging everybody’s whereabouts and backgrounds. Anna O’Byrne plays Molly Ralston, the ingénue hotelier with a secret, with a lot of panache.
Even though it is a light entertainment, the play is extremely well written with clever dialogue and a taught structure. Not a single word or scene is extraneous. Agatha Christie’s well-honed command of stagecraft is evident, playing with entrances and exits and knowing just how to balance comedy and mystery for full dramatic effect.
Isabel Hudson’s set succeeds in capturing British, post war, upper class, Gothic mansion bleakness. Her costumes are an excellent match for the characters. Cornflower blue for Molly, a sharply cut Prince of Wales check suit for Miss Casewell and a raffish jacket for Christopher Wren are all just right.
One of the traditions of the production is that the audience is sworn to secrecy about the identity of the murderer. You’ll have to go and see it to find out as you might never guess it. Or maybe you will.
John Frost for Crossroads Live Australia
Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap
Director Robyn Nevin
Venue: Theatre Royal Sydney
Dates: 8 – 30 October 2022