THEY say it is hard to keep a secret, but it can’t be that difficult because well over 10 MILLION people over a 70 year period have managed to keep the identity of the murderer to themselves after seeing a production of The Mousetrap. That is the audience numbers recorded firstly in London’s Ambassadors Theatre, then St Martin’s Theatre, with only just over a year-long break when all theatres were closed because of Covid, since the show opened on 25th November 1952.
At the end of each performance the audience is asked by a member of the cast to please not reveal the name of the murderer, and since the vast majority of those, who are still flocking to the West End or catching up with a touring production, are still ignorant of the killer’s identity, its fair to say that practically all of those who have seen the play have kept their own counsel as to the identity of the arch villain.
Just why this typical Agatha Christie whodunit has captured and maintained a now world-wide audience, until it has become the worlds longest continually running play, is impossible to say. Her Spider’s Web (1954), and The Hollow (19610, have just as many clever plot twists and turns and are as full of red herrings, but they had to be contented with modest London runs and numerous touring and amateur productions.
Perhaps because the short story on which Agatha Christie based the radio play Three Blind Mice, written as a birthday present for Queen Mary, was the true tale of a young boy who died after he and his brother had been abused by a the Shropshire Farmer and his wife who were fostering them. Whilst that theme is still in the background of this play there are many more places in this stage version to lighten the atmosphere and co-directors Ian Talbert and Denise Silvey take every opportunity that comes their way to do so. In fact, they will have to be careful not to push too hard for an extra laugh or two, in doing so turning the newly-arrived first guests at Mollie and Giles Ralston’s just opened Monkswell Guest House into figures of fun rather than murder suspects.
As they now stand, Shaun McCourt’s edgy Christopher Wren, Catherine Shipton’s disagreeable, forever complaining Mrs Boyle, Todd Carty’s lovely bluff retire Major Metcalf, Leigh Lothian’s strong new age young woman, Steven Elliott’s twinkly-eyed mysterious Italian Mr Paravicini, Garyn Williams’s Detective Sgt Trotter, full of schoolboy enthusiasm as he attempts to solve the murder, and the Rachael Dawson and Michael Lyle as the young couple striving to make a go of their new venture, all keep their characters within the bounds of reality.
They are also characters who fit admirably into this slightly distressed old manor, now a guest house, which, with five possible exits and entrance, provides an ideal setting for the story to develop. Costumes and furnishings place the time, as it has to be with references to Ration Books (and not a mobile phone or laptop in sight) firmly in the immediate post Second World War period.
Once the land line telephone has been cut and the snow closes in, the eight characters are completely isolated. By the end of the first act one of them will be murdered, all of them will prove to be not quite what you first thought them to be … and one will be a killer.
I am not going to spoil the party by revealing the name of either the victim or murderer. For that information you will have to get to the Bristol Hippodrome before Saturday 29th July, or wait until the production returns between 11th and 16th September to Torquay’s Princess Theatre, Truro’s Hall for Cornwall from 9th to 14th October, or at the Playhouse Weston-super-Mare from 13th to 18th November.