Coming from the Queen of the whodunnit, Dame Agatha Christie, historically speaking, The Mousetrap is the longest-running play in the world and it’s incredibly clear to see why. Brought to Plymouth for part of its 70th Anniversary Tour, watching this play is a truly an immersive experience that producer Adam Spiegel alongside co-directors Ian Talbot and Denise Siley allow the audience to become a part of, taking you back to a bygone era where the radio is still called a wireless and everyone has a sense of upper class.
With the audience being initially seated in front of a deep ruby curtain; partnered with eerily suitably period music played on the piano, this timeless murder mystery takes place in Monkswell Manor, a countryside guesthouse newly opened by the Ralstons, who welcome a diverse array of guests on a snowy eve. As the wireless plays a news bulletin about a recent murder in London, these guests are sent into a whirlwind of panic as they’re informed the police are arriving for an investigation surrounding the manor being a key establishment of the crime…but in terms of who it was? That’s the best-kept secret in history.
First debuted in 1952, audiences will be relieved to know that alongside the London production, on this tour; not a single character, piece of the script or piece of set has changed, making this very much so a period piece that’s frozen in time without the requirement of a 21st Century update. Being newlyweds and new to the business industry, Mollie and Giles Ralston are determined to make the business work, with Joelle Dyson and Laurence Pears both making powerful performances as the hosts of the guesthouse.
With the collection of guests having such assorted personalities, we’re first introduced to the eccentric, youthful and overly energetic aspiring architect Christopher Wren, played brilliantly by Elliot Clay. With this being a largely ensemble-based performance with the collective cast each having their own role to play, Clay manages to steal a scene; interjecting his comedic and flamboyant nature into otherwise scenes of high tension. Whether he’s annoying the older generation, most countlessly Mrs Boyle (played by Gwyneth Strong who audiences will know as Cassandra in Only Fools and Horses) by singing nursery rhymes, sharing his adoration for the manor’s furnishings or even surprising the Ralstons by shouting boo at them, Clay is truly one to watch as a standout performer who will forever bring a smile to your face.
Alongside Clay, I was pleasantly surprised by Kieran Brown’s performance as Mr Paravicini, a mysterious individual who joins the guesthouse at the last minute; meaning that we know little to nothing about him. Despite this shady persona, Brown brings an irresistibly brilliant performative nature to the production, complete with a high-pitched contagious laugh, leaving the audience forever amused by his antics, paired to perfection alongside Elliot Clay’s portrayal of Christopher Wren.
Of course, with this being a whodunnit–the charm of Christie entices you in every twist and turn, making sure you watch each and every character closely to piece together an ageless mystery, where nobody is clear of suspicion.
Set design from Splinter Scenery truly works in storytelling favour for the production; using a static set that remains true to the original. A single room is the solo location of The Mousetrap, donned with wood panelling, alongside a plethora of doors and windows that the cast can appear and exit from. There are an extremely limited amount of props, allowing an audience to focus on the characters and the storyline at hand; with a further sense of mystery being able to form when certain characters aren’t on stage as you begin to further your suspicions regarding their whereabouts. Being snowed in, nobody can get in, nor out; creating enthralling scenes where you’re on the edge of your seat.
Lighting design from Sonic Harrison assisted with this storytelling device, mainly focusing on using traditional house lights that were built into the wall, or lamps that were dotted around the central living area in order to create a homely aura; with the warm yellows generated by these bulbs supporting this within the guesthouse. This warm and cosy atmosphere is in perfect contrast to the snow outside and creates a false narrative of our characters being in a place where they can relax, with a murderer in their midst. This is interrupted however, in scenes of high tension, where blackouts are cleverly constructed within Harrison’s design, plunging the entire audience into darkness, allowing these murderous scenes to occur under the cover of darkness, with light needing to be shed on things for the truth to unfold.
It’s clear to see why The Mousetrap has become such an acclaimed and definitive piece of theatre within its continuous run on a London stage–in fact, the show has run since its debut, only being halted due to unforeseen circumstances with the pandemic! It’s a truly timeless narrative and a genre that’ll be adored for decades, allowing for a never fading sense of popularity that’ll continue to sell out venues and long may the mystery continue. Simply put, it’s murder mystery at its best.
The Mousetrap is running at Theatre Royal Plymouth until 25th March 2023 as part of its 70th Anniversary Tour, which will be showing around the UK in select venues until February 2024.