Ironically, there’s something very reliable about a big-theatre mystery. For all the suspense and suspicion, you can be sure there will be some stock characters, a grand setting, some drawling southern English accents and a healthy dose of escapism. In an age when watching serial killer documentaries is considered a personality quirk it seems that Agatha Christie’s West-End staple The Mousetrap should be a storming success. Provided it holds up, of course.
The most one can ask for with a play like this is that the actor’s embrace their own absurdity. In that respect, David Alcock is perfectly cast as “the unexpected guest”, the sinister Mr. Paravicini. Saddled with the challenging role of the untrustworthy foreigner, he is amusing even if he can't quite revive the out-dated character type. More successful is Susan Penhaligan as the bitter and unamenable Mrs. Boyle, a character that never gets old. A particular stand-out is Lewis Chandler as the camp, snobbish and mischievous Chris, the type of person that one would hate to be in the company of, but loves watched somebody else endure.
The only disappointing performance is that of Geoff Arnold as Sergeant Trotter. He comes off as more stilted than his co-stars, and the pacing becomes notable slower when he starts a monologue. In his defence however, his dialogue is encumbered with a great amount of repetition. It may be sacrilege to criticise the longest-running play of all time, but despite The Mousetrap having a generous run-time it gradually loses steam and fails to flesh out its characters. Even the thematic use of “Three Blind Mice” is disappointing when one considers that Christie achieved a far more solid narrative structure based around a nursery rhyme with And Then There Were None eight years earlier.
Gareth Armstrong’s direction infuses the production with a self-aware sense of humour. The whole show wallows in British twee, to its great benefit. Unfortunately either the cast or the director have become too comfortable in the show’s enduring popularity, and the climactic twist, though surprising, has grown visibly stale. It does not detract from the light and fun lead-up that came before it, but the element of suspense has all but gone as the show squeaks away in the final lines of dialogue. Three stars.
Whispers from the crowd:
“I saw it in London a few years ago, I don’t remember it being so funny! And I forgot who it was at the end. It was interesting that it feels so modern and the characters feel new.”