Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap – Review – Hull New Theatre
By Rachel Howard, January 2020
My usual visits to the theatre involve a high-octane atmosphere, a dose of flamboyance and sprinkle of jazz hands – yes I’m a bonafide fan of musical theatre. But when it comes to straight plays, that’s an area a little outside my comfort zone.
Whether you’re a fan of musical theatre, drama, comedy or horror, the chances are you’ll have heard of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. In fact, I reckon you’ve been hiding under a rock if you don’t know at least a smidge about the West End’s longest-running show.
Opening at London’s Ambassador’s Theatre in 1952, it moved next door to St Martin’s Theatre in 1974, where it has remained to the present day, amassing more than 28,000 performances.
What began as a radio play written for Queen Mary, Agatha Christie’s classic whodunit has been enthralling audiences in the West End for years, but how would that translate to its current UK tour? And how would a fan of musical theatre fare without the sparkle and glitter she’s so accustomed to? I visited Hull New Theatre to find out.
“Simple, yet effective”
A decent sized crowd has turned out on a Monday evening for opening night, and there’s a buzz of excitement in the auditorium. As I take my seat I note the quiet and elegant piano music playing in the background. It’s simple, yet effective, and sets the scene without the need for special effects. As the curtain rises, we set eyes on the one set that will accompany the rest of the play.
Set in the early 1950s, Monkswell Manor guesthouse is a grand yet welcoming home, and the drawing room appears warm and cosy in contrast to the snow falling (very effectively) outside the windows. This set is apparently a very close copy of the one used at St Martin’s Theatre, and it certainly works in allowing the audience to feel part of the story. Within minutes I forget I’m in a theatre, and instead feel like I’m warming myself by the fire at Monkswell.
Within this warm and friendly reception room, a classic Agatha Christie mystery is about to unfold – courtesy of just eight characters – the owners of Monkswell, Giles and Mollie Ralston; their guests Mrs Boyle, Miss Casewell, Major Metcalfe and Christopher Wren; Detective Sergeant Trotter and the mysterious latecomer Mr Paravicini. It is testament to not only the actors’ talent, but the writing of Christie, that such a strong story can be carried by such a small cast.
Susan Penhaligon (Emmerdale; Upstairs, Downstairs) takes on the role of Mrs Boyle and her experience shines through. All the characters are very much ‘of their time’ but this is especially the case with Mrs Boyle. Snobby remarks about a lack of servants, a frustration with the class of the other guests and a patronising attitude towards her hosts makes her a less than lovable character, but a compelling one nonetheless.
The other big character on stage is Christopher Wren, played superbly by George Naylor. A flamboyant and excitable young man, his vulnerability juxtaposes beautifully with his camp persona that is so awkwardly received by his fellow houseguests. It is the 1950s after all.
All eight cast members deliver a certain magic to the stage, and together bring Agatha Christie’s mystery to life. Needless to say, with the weather taking a turn for the worse and trapping everyone in, the night doesn’t run smoothly for all of Monkswell’s guests, and it becomes the job of DS Trotter to work out ‘whodunit’, piecing together a back story and linking it, rightly or wrongly, to each of our characters.
In time honoured tradition, the Mousetrap audience are asked to keep the identity of the killer a secret, so as not to spoil it for future theatregoers. Quite how this has been managed over the course of the last 68 years, I don’t know, but it certainly hadn’t got back to me so I was able to enjoy the challenge of working it out for myself – and I will keep my vow and not reveal a thing!
All I will say is that this musical-theatre fan thoroughly enjoyed her trip to the ‘dark side’. Even without the trappings of dance, live music and dazzling costumes, a night at the theatre can still be entertaining, especially when paired with a captivating story written by one of our greatest authors. Long may The Mousetrap reign.
Actor images: Johan Persson