NINETEEN seventy seven, the year of the Silver Jubilee, my first concert (The Jam at the Village Bowl, Bournemouth) and the year a 14-year- old adolescent first encountered Tom Baker’s Dr Who’s assistant Leela, dressed in little more than was necessary, giving reason alone to tune into BBC1 every Saturday evening.
Skip forward 39 years and, after adventures in Tenko, Bergerac and Albert Square, this significant part of my teenage life, Louise Jamieson, is featuring in a national tour of the best known play in the world. Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is still running in London, 64 years after it opened, and is probably more famous for that than anything else.
I have seen it before, and along with millions of others have kept the secret of who committed the murder, and more importantly, the clever twist that goes with it, as every audience is asked to do at the end of each performance.
One problem with murder-mystery plays is covered before this one begins – a murder has already happened, and we can therefore start our own game of trying to work out who is responsible from the very beginning of the action. So often the first half of a whodunit is taken up with a long exposition, a who-could-have-had-any-possible-reason-to-have-dunnit, which works better in a novel than on the stage in most cases.
This was one of Christie’s first original plays after previous success adapting her own novels and it allowed her to play with the idiosyncrasies of theatre, where a visual clue can be seen, or we can mistake one character for another, without it having to be described in detail. As a fan of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound, which has more references to this play than any other, including a variation on the same twist, I find myself laughing at some of the names of characters, and even the location, as Monkswell Manor becomes Muldoon Manor in the Stoppard, and is cut off by fog rather than snow, but in general this adds to my fondness for what has become a classic of this genre, and indeed British theatre itself.
This company manages to avoid the cliché of caricature and keep all of their playing accurate and naturalistic. Yes, there are a couple of familiar faces, Ms Jamieson clearly relishing her role as the ever-complaining Mrs Bowles, the wonderful Tony Boncza, well-known to Salisbury audiences, as the mysterious retired Major Metcalfe, and Oliver Gully going delightfully over the top, yet still very much in character, as Christopher Wren. But as a whole we believe in these people, we are drawn into every part of the action, and become as concerned as the characters as the plot first develops, takes a turn for the worse, and then twists cleverly towards the end to something that can still surprise even the most cynical modern audience.
It is a pleasure to visit a local, well-appointed, theatre, and be thoroughly entertained by a team of professionals doing something they clearly love, and doing it so well.
The Mousetrap continues on tour for the rest of the year, stopping at Salisbury in June and Bristol in August. It is a classic, very well directed and performed, and should be seen, at least once, by everyone.