A momentous year for Britain in many ways, 2012 also marked the anniversary of 60 years on the throne for a very British institution.
Queen of crime. Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap celebrated its diamond anniversary of terrifying and delighting audiences with a special theatre tour which I managed to catch at the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield.
Venturing out of the West End for the plays first ever UK wide tour, Sheffield’s Lyceum Theatre is the perfect home away from home for The Mousetrap due to its grand setting and the fact it was designed by theatre architect WGR Sprague who also designed St Martin’s and the Ambassador’s theatre where the play has had a combined run of 60 years.
Set in the grand hall of the newly established Monkswell Manor guesthouse in war-time Britain, audiences will recognise the set-up as classic Christie.
Newly-wed couple Mollie and Giles Ralston are gearing up to receive house guests - each with a suspicious reason for visiting the isolated country retreat just outside the capital, amidst news of a grisly London murder and a massive snowstorm which threatens to trap them all.
Shortly after the guests arrive Mollie Ralston tells her husband how ‘it seems rather unfair that all of our guests are either unpleasant or odd’ which is certainly the case with the acerbic and matronly Mrs Boyle, the vulnerable yet manic Christopher Wren, the evasive Miss Casewell, dull Major Metcalfe and Mr Paravicini who arrives late and takes great pleasure in putting everyone on edge.
It’s not long before Detective Sergeant Trotter arrives at the guesthouse on a pair of skis and with the news that both the London murderer and their next victim may be someone in the guesthouse.
One day and a murder later, everyone has a theory about who the murderer could be and as relationships unravel and emotions run high, the play charges towards a shocking end.
Christie’s writing is sharp and witty and Ian Watt-Smith’s direction ensures that the play combines an emotionally engaging and at times, tense story arch, with flawless comedy performances that avoid seeming cliched or contrived.
The entire cast gave a brilliant performance: Steven France’s comic timing as the irritating yet lovable Christopher Wren is spot on, Jemma Walker and Michael Instone really bring young couple Mr and Mrs Ralston to life and Bob Saul’s portrayal of the slightly idiotic Sergeant Trotter had the Sheffield audience laughing at his every mannerism and expression. While it is now seen as an iconic part of the theatre landscape, in November 1952, a few weeks after The Mousetrap’s first run began neither Agatha Christie or the play’s producer Peter Saunders were optimistic about the play’s chance of survival.
Mr Saunders reckoned the play would have a run of 14 months, while Agatha thought her whodunit play would meet its maker after just eight months.
Both seriously underestimated the plays appeal and after spending sixty years in the West End the true mystery is how The Mousetrap has continued to defy commercial logic and break theatre records the world over.
The diamond tour gives the play wider appeal as it takes out of the confines of the West End, and I’m sure many people like me will be curious to see what all the fuss is about.
Despite not usually being a fan of murder mysteries, I really enjoyed The Mousetrap which I found to be surprisingly fresh and engaging, and it’s easy to see why it’s achieved such longevity.
The conclusion of the play is brilliantly unexpected and in true Mousetrap tradition Bob Saul aka Detective Trotter tells the audience at the end of the play ‘now you have seen The Mousetrap you are our partners in crime, and we ask you to preserve the tradition by keeping the secret of whodunit locked in your hearts’ which I intend to do, and I hope you will too.