FringeReview UK 2019
A new production by Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen and Adam Spiegel of The Mousetrap is directed by Gareth Armstrong with John Griffiths as resident director. No set designer’s designated, Rocket Scenery have suggested the single-set panelled drawing room converted from an old abbey, lovingly detailed with stained-glass windows against which outside snow falls. Sofas and a radiogram complete a plush if austere verismo. Sound by Richard Carter includes radio announcements, Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique in antique sound and Janacek’s String Quartet no. 1. Both works end in murder. Caroline Hannah’s costumes keep that freeze-dried period feel.
It’s six years since Bill Kenwright’s Agatha Christie Company brought The Mousetrap on its first tour to Theatre Royal Brighton. So a new production by Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen and Adam Spiegel is intriguing. We’re so used to the impressive run of Christies from Kenwright’s stable that seeing another team seems almost illicit.
67 years ago the play was set in aspic, and that postwar brew of rationing, ex-soldiers, national servicemen, aftershocks of war and murder as a memorable surprise comes across as cosily as ever.
Christie herself was baffled by the success of Mousetap give she rated other plays higher. She concluded the wholesome balance of something for everyone but not too much somehow satisfied. It does. Not too frightening, but a bit. Not too horrible, but a bit. Not too dark, but enough for anyone who digs. And two of the characters are overtly gay.
The Mousetrap is directed by Gareth Armstrong with cast member John Griffiths as resident director. No set designer’s designated – it’s not altered since 1952. Rocket Scenery have suggested the single-set panelled drawing room converted from an old abbey, lovingly detailed with stained-glass windows against which outside snow falls. Sofas and a radiogram complete a plush if austere verismo. Sound by Richard Carter includes radio announcements, Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique in antique sound and Janacek’s String Quartet no. 1. Both works end in murder. Caroline Hannah’s costumes keep that freeze-dried period feel.
Married just a year, Mollie (Harriett Hare) and Giles Ralston (Nick Biadon) have inherited Molie’s aunt’s old abbey as you do and converted it into a guest-house. Both make convincing enough characters and bring some freshness.
Their first guests arrive. Lewis Chandler’s Christopher Wren is a blond Kenneth Williams, nervously camp and frightened of something (‘infamy, infamy… they’ve all got it in for me’) and delightfully nosey. It’s a deliriously comic turn. In spite of herself Mollie feels sisterly and protective towards Wren and he’s a dab hand at making rationed food tasty. There’s a litany of culinary feats, everyday to us, but impossibly exotic back in 1952.
There’s the horrid JP Mrs Boyle (the star, Gwynneth Strong) who faults as much as Wren delights in the place. The Ralstons are amateurs. No staff? It’s a relentlessly judgemental, nagging role and you wish someone would take her aside and gently persuade her to be quiet.
Griffiths’ Major Metcalfe seems the gammon-ish old soldier, but with a warmth to his bluff and a sharp competence. Saskia Vaigncourt-Strallen’s Miss Casewell is up-tight, defensive, in trousers and 24, though seemingly older. And she’s hardly set foot in England since she was 13. Here’s a person to sound.
Finally a blow-in from the snow with his overturned Rolls-Royce: David Alcock’s Mr Paravicini delights in all that happens. He’s that stock postwar type, an untrustworthy foreigner. Bur could the guilt hide our prejudice at innocence that really hides guilt? Alcock delights in the peacock gestures and giggles, agile for a man so apparently around 60.
Finally, finally, a phone call, referring to that shocking murder in London in the Evening Standard. The suspect might be making his way to this very house. Sergeant Trotter arrives, Geoff Arnold’s lean and hungry to warn them another murder might be committed. More than one.
It would be surprising if it wasn’t. The presence of the very people meant to prevent such calamities guarantee them. Trotter has his work cut out; it even includes recreating the movements but getting each suspect to play a different part. Canny. Trotter’s no plodder, working through the assembled insecurities and uncovering truths that make others shudder; even newlyweds.
This is a finely-judged, neatly-rendered romp of a classic. The production never takes itself too seriously; on the surface. When the description of the murderer’s clothing is given, one character twice over lays out their clothes in time to the voice; twice. But that’s why the depth plummets so convincingly. Abuse of all kinds is one unusual theme; and two sympathetic gay characters out of a cast of eight is impressive for 1952.
It’s those deeper themes, touched on, that show how over the years this play proves endlessly renewable. And why it lasts more than Christie’s more elaborate plots. A dark time-bomb of hurt and heart blasts complacency. For 30 years the work’s appeal might have seemed subliminal. For the next 40 as it soon will be, we’ve marvelled at how wincingly ahead of her time Christie’s proved.