The Mousetrap, 70th anniversary tour. Theatre Royal, Bath

A FRIEND of mine once spotted a poster in a New York travel agent’s window which read “Come to London and see Buckingham Palace, The Tower of London, Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and The Mousetrap. How a play which drew comments from some critics like “a middling piece.” “less in it than meets the eye and “characters built entirely on cliches”, has survived for 70 years in London’s West End, making it the longest running play in history, plus many tours and worldwide productions to become a national institution, is impossible to say.

Perhaps the answer is that it has never pretended to be anything other than it is, an unpretentious, well written, whodunit – eight characters, one of them a murderer, stranded by heavy snowfalls in a remote West Country guest house. All of them, save for the one who is murdered (I will not reveal which one is killed any more than I would the identity of the killer) have a motive and come under suspicion as the action unfolds.

Is it the nice young newly married couple Mollie (Joelle Dyson) and Giles Ralston (Laurence Pears) desperately anxious to make a success of the guest house they created in the property Mollie has inherited. Before the killer is exposed, even their great love is not enough to prevent them suspecting each other.

Or is it the over-anxious, hiding-behind-silly-jokes Christopher Wren? Although he professes to be an architect, that cannot be his real name, can it? Understudy Jack Elliot was very sure-footed in the role. Perhaps it’s Essie Barrow’s newly-arrived from abroad, no nonsense young Miss Casewell, or even Joseph Reed’s determined to get to the bottom of the mystery Detective Sgt Trotter, after his arrival on skis.

Three well know players, all in fine form and with long-running, much-loved TV roles on their CVs, fill up the guest list, but are they victims or good guys? Gwyneth Strong (Cassandra in Fools and Horses) as an unrepentantly bitter former magistrate, Mrs Boyle; John Altman (Nick Cotton in EastEnders) steering the flamboyant Mr Paravicini skilfully though the minefield of a stage-Italian looking for easy laughs  and Todd Canty (Tucker Jenkins in Grange Hill, Mark Fowler EastEnders), as Major Metcalf,  the epitome of a rather pompous retired army officer, with just a hint that he is probably not quite what he appears to be.

An ideal set, faded grandeur and well-chosen costumes place the story firmly in the 1950s, and co-directors Ian Talbot and Denise Silvey make full use of its multiple entrances and exits to ramp up the tension. They are also not afraid to give the cast full rein to garner the many gentle pieces of humour within the script, which adds greatly to the play’s attraction.

At the end we are asked, like the millions who have gone before us, not to reveal the identity of the murderer. I have no intention of breaking that trust, or even hinting to you who the victim is and when they meet their demise. Only a visit to the Theatre Royal Bath, until Saturday 26th November, or St Martin’s Theatre London anytime, will provide those answers.

Or you can wait until 2023, when the Mousetrap stops at Yeovil Octagon 20th to 25th February; Southampton Mayflower 27th Feb­ru ­­-ary to 4th March; Cardiff New Theatre 13th to 18th March; Plymouth Theatre Royal 20th to 25th March; Cheltenham  Everyman15th to  20th May, or Bristol Hippodrome from 24th to 29th July.

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