The cast of The Mousetrap – Photo © Johann Persson
Take eight diverse characters thrown together by fate in an old country home, cut off by deep snow and united by fear of murder and what do you have? At Norwich Theatre Royal this week the answer is the perennial favourite The Mousetrap, the simple Agatha Christie penned thriller which still fills theatre seats over sixty years after the first performance.
Christie writes for plot rather than character, playing her parts like a quirky game of chess. Nobody bothers about the bishop’s personality in a game of chess, so I guess we can suspend our disbelief at the eight unlikely souls put before us at Monkswell Manor. Married couple Mollie Ralston (Harriet Hare) and Giles Ralston (Nick Biadon) are opening their inherited manor house for the first time as a guest house on this snowy night. Over the radio we can hear the grim tale of a recent murder as yet unsolved. One by one their guests, invited and not, begin to arrive and set out their stereotypes with a series of unsubtle interactions with the hosts.
Lewis Chandler plays the camp Christopher Wren, possibly an architect, followed by the laughably stern former magistrate Mrs Boyle (Gwyneth Strong), retired Major Metcalf (John Griffiths), and the androgynous Miss Casewell (Saskia Vaigncourt-Strallen). They are then joined by Mr Paravicini (David Alcock) an affected poser from an always unspecified foreign country. His entry marks the departure of the script from any attempt at credibility. He claims to have been stranded in his Rolls Royce nearby and demands sanctuary in the Manor house. Final entrant to this mix is the investigating Mr Plod in the form of Sergeant Trotter (Geoff Arnold) who arrives on skis (as you do) to petrify the assembled guests with tales of an unfinished murder rampage coming their way, indeed now already amongst them.
The enthusiastic cast of this production cannot be faulted, giving more to their portrayals of dotty eccentricity than ever Ms Christie commanded, as if blissfully unaware that her plot invariably requires that 180º character turn from one of them in order to flush out a murderer. The sumptuous set is every bit as solid and British as the mid-Twentieth Century values portrayed, where every foreigner is immediately suspect and any kind of variance from heteronormality is merely hinted at in polite society. Even the programme has a musty aroma as if stored in an old cellar. Although a fixture of the West End the play has not translated much to non-English cultures or to film, the only recognisable film version being the 1960 Chupi Chupi Aashey from Bengali author Premendra Mitra.
As with every previous audience member I am contractually obliged not to reveal the outcome or the twist in the tale, even though to be fair the clues are all there even in this little review. But it will be easier for you to get along to the Theatre Royal and tick The Mousetrap off your ‘must see one day’ list without the tedious business of having to travel to London to see the permanent version of this theatrical monument. Leave your credulity in the car park and enjoy a little bit of theatre history in the first Mousetrap visit to Norwich for six years.
© Julian Swainson 2019
The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie plays at Norwich Theatre Royal until Saturday 13th July. Tickets £10 – £31.50 – Discounts for Friends, Over-60s and Under-18s.
Book now at www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk or call the box office on 01603 630000.