Writer: Agatha Christie
Director: Ian Watt-Smith
Reviewer: Kathryn M. Bartlett
Now in its record-breaking 60th, diamond anniversary year, Agatha Christie’s famous stage play, still running in London’s West End, has embarked on its first ever tour. Already playing to sold-out houses nationwide, and booking well in to 2014, it has certainly been so far well-received and anticipation to see this 1950’s period-piece is high.
The play is set in a grand country house which has been converted into the Monkswell Manor Guesthouse, by newly-weds Mr & Mrs Ralston. Against a narrative of a breaking news story of a murder that has been committed in London by a mysterious figure, an assortment of five interesting characters with colourful pasts come to stay at the manor on the couple’s first night of business. Due to the nature of the criminal now at large, a policeman joins the residents; and so the scene is set for ensuing murder and mayhem.
Against an impressive set of a large, grand, wooden-panelled sitting room within the manor house; not one of the performers in this cast stand-out as anything special. Each one is of much the same, passable standard as each other, in the main. Chugging along almost indiscriminately as they long-windedly highlight each characters’ various eccentricities and secretive past.
Bruno Langley and Jemma Walker as Giles and Mollie Ralston do well as the proprietors of Monkswell Manor Guest House, generally, but when they are called to show heightened emotion in a few later scenes, the believability is not quite there.
Most disconcerting and disappointing, unfortunately, is Thomas Howes portrayal of Detective Sergeant Trotter. Although at times he is an interesting watch, for most of the performance he veers into the realm of annoying. Whether it is meant to be a trait of his onstage character, or simply his delivery; his hunched shoulders, poor posture, and random, distracting, rapid, skittish head movements give a performance that seems almost entirely insular to the stage, and gravitates away from the audience. Mostly uncomfortable and un-engaging, his portrayal also lacks any of the authority, that especially in playing a policeman and leading character, one would hope to see. Frequently, he sadly detracts attention from the whole piece.
Some much-needed up-tempo light relief is provided in Steven France as the camp and rather eccentric, Christopher Wren. Hitting the audience with plenty of sparky humorous moments, and a gregarious character, France adds a bright dimension to the proceedings and jump-starts the dispersing momentum in many-a-scene.
Although possibly meant to be atmospheric, the onstage lighting for most of the performance is far too dim and is simply un-engaging, as are a lot of muffled, incoherent spoken lines. Whether the latter is the fault of the actors’ delivery or the sound production, various points struggle to hold the attention, either way.
A sporadic pace of dialogue, often too hurried, but also often languishing, slow and lethargic, makes key points almost overlooked and even the ‘big reveal’ towards the end of the show is threateningly a nigh-on anti-climax. A lot of onstage dithering after this point leads to a rather clumsy wrap-up of the piece.
However, props must be given to the cast as a collective, as on the whole, the mood and intrigue of the piece is conveyed; if lacking a little tension. There are lots of long scenes with extended pieces of dialogue to learn, and therefore present, which they execute well.
Moreover, despite the aforementioned misgivings, overall this is a definitely enjoyable, good night out. The Mousetrap offers warm, affable, all-round family-entertainment, and ticks most of the boxes for a comfortable evening’s amusement. There is not much around on-stage at the moment in this style/genre, and it is undeniably nice to see something different. It is indeed a classic in the world of theatre. Its run being of decade-straddling longevity, and audience-appeal that transcends generations, speaks for itself; and it is certainly something that everyone should experience at least once.