Being close to the same age as Agatha Christie’s ‘The Mousetrap’ I thought it was about time I joined the throngs of people who, since October 1952, when the play opened, have kept the best secret in theatre history.
The origins of the play have a royal and rodent beginning. A BBC official thought a radio play by Agatha Christie would be a rather lovely gift for Queen Mary’s 80th birthday in 1947. The play ‘Three Blind Mice’ was duly broadcast as a half-hour play, no doubt to royal approval, and this formed the basis of the Mousetrap some five years later.
I mistakenly assumed that the Mousetrap had its world premiere in London however, the Theatre Royal Nottingham had that honour.
The story follows a group of people gathered in a country house/guest house, Monkswell Manor. They become cut-off by the snow and discover, to their horror, that there is a murderer in their midst. Who can be the culprit of a murderous mission, where potential victims are trapped in the genteel country house setting?
One by one the suspicious characters reveal their sordid pasts until at the last, the moment we all await, the identity of the killer and the motive is finally revealed.
The oak panelled room, one room with several entrances, with huge fireplace and velvet drapes sets the scene perfectly for us to meet Mollie Ralston (Harriett Hare) and Giles Ralston (Nick Biadon), married only one year and owners of Monkswell Manor. We await the first ever guests to their Country House Guest House. It’s more Mollie’s idea than Giles but since Mollie was left the property, he acquiesced to having paying guests. Mollie, at first seems to be the dutiful wife, but her character becomes more rounded in the second act as more of her story becomes clear.
Favourite for me and it seems many of the audience, is the winsome, sometimes acerbic, Christopher Wren ( Lewis Chandler) whose timing is perfect for his nasty little quips produced with a childish mischievous smile.
Only Fools and Horses actress, Gwyneth Strong brings authenticity to Mrs Boyle. Reminiscent of Hercule Poirot’s friend, Inspector Japp, Sergeant Trotter (Geoff Arnold) keeps the erstwhile group in check whilst Mr Paravicini (David Alcock) provides Italian charm and sometimes a little bit of menace.
The fast pace continues in the second half as we are kept guessing, due to so many twists and turns, who could be the cold-blooded murderer?
Looking around the theatre, it was heartening to see that there was a good cross section of ages, which hopefully means that The Mousetrap is here to stay for a while longer.
The Mousetrap has a brilliantly intricate plot, where murder lurks around every corner. It’s a good old-fashioned thriller, well-acted and stands the test of time. As Noel Coward said in his bristly message to Agatha Christie, in September 1957 “Much as it pains me, I really must congratulate you.”
The Mousetrap is the longest running show of any kind in the history, and as we are asked by a member of the cast in their final bow – I promise I will ‘keep the ending in my heart!’ and long may the show continue.★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Read our interview with Gwyneth Strong.