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Brighton Year-Round 2022

The Mousetrap

Adam Spiegel

Genre: Drama, Mainstream Theatre, Theatre

Venue: Theatre Royal, Brighton


Low Down

A new production by Adam Spiegel of The Mousetrap is directed by Ian Talbot and Denise Silvey. Janet Hudson-Holt’s costumes keep that freeze-dried period feel.

No set designer’s designated, Rocket Scenery have suggested the single-set panelled drawing room. Sound originally by Richard Carter. Head of Sound now Jasbir Puri. Casting Caroline Hannam.

Production Manager Rich Blacksell, CSM Lauren Barclay, DSM Matthew Pain, Technical Assistant Stage Manager Maz Shepherd, ASMs Felicity Cant, Jack Elliott, Head of Wardrobe Rachael Piper.

Till October 29th


At the heart of this success isn’t so much the secret we keep, or even the ingenuity of whodunnit; the whydunnit’s human scale will keep this play bright.

It’s three years since Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen and Adam Spiegel brought The Mousetrap on its first tour to Theatre Royal Brighton. In 2013 it was Bill Kenwright’s Agatha Christie Company. So Spiegel’s own new production is intriguing, bringing some bright interpreters and a sucker-punch with less smugness.

70 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 The Mousetrap given 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 Ian Talbot and Denise Silvey. 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 originally by Richard Carter (now Jasbir Puri) includes radio announcements, Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique in antique sound and Janacek’s String Quartet no. 1 played very slowly. Both works end in murder. Rachael Piper’s costumes keep that freeze-dried period feel. 

Married just a year, Mollie (Joelle Dyson) and Giles Ralston (Laurence Pears) have inherited Mollie’s aunt’s old abbey as you do and converted it into a guest-house. Both make convincing enough characters and bring some freshness – Dyson though is able like some others to develop. Christie’s writing throughout plays with an edge of self-parody she goads actors to fall into.

Their first guests arrive. Elliot Clay’s Christopher Wren is less how he’s usually played: a blond Kenneth Williams, nervously camp and frightened of something (‘infamy, infamy… they’ve all got it in for me’). He tames that given to something more profound, so he can deploy Christie’s other Wren attributes with conviction: delightfully nosey with the energy to bring his outré character to life. More than that, developing Wren through this role at St Martin’s Theatre, composer/writer Clay brings outstanding theatricality as well as singing (one of two who can). It’s a deliriously comic rendition, but brings a rare truth to Christie’s stereotypes.

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 (Gwynneth Strong, returning to her 2019 touring role) who faults as much as Wren delights in the place. The Ralstons are amateurs. No staff? It’s a relentlessly judgemental, nagging role with no half-lights; you wish someone would take her aside and gently persuade her to be quiet.

Todd Carty’s Major Metcalfe seems the gammon-ish old soldier, but with a warmth to his bluff and a sharp competence. Also from the St Martin’s company, Essie Barrow’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. Barrow’s able to suggest someone beyond the slightest of Christie’s eight characters; with none of the parodic lines Christie loads others with, there’s a chance for truth and Barrow seizes it.

The unexpected guest: a blow-in from the snow with his overturned Rolls-Royce: Kieran Brown’s Mr Paravicini delights in all that happens, and – another actor from musicals – gives a superb performance, with singing snatches. He’s that stock postwar type, an untrustworthy foreigner. But could the guilt hide our prejudice at innocence? Brown more than delights in peacock gestures and giggles, agile for a man so apparently around 60. He knows where to rein in and turn the cardboard to flesh. Alongside Clay’s his is the outstanding performance.

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, Joseph Reed’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.

Reed like the rest of the cast is miced up, and his vehemence  can prove wearing. Happily he’s able to blaze in the denouement.

That denouement explodes with vocal and physical surprises. This production in particular highlights aftershock and trauma convincingly.

With some caveats over decibels, this is latterly a keenly-judged, neatly-rendered romp of a classic. And this production boasts two revelatory performances and another fine one, to lift it above the average touring Mousetrap, despite unevenness. This 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, we’ve marvelled at how wincingly ahead of her time Christie’s proved. The hurt has its reasons.