The Mousetrap opened in 1952 at the Ambassadors before finding its home at St. Martin’s Theatre for the past forty years, making it the longest running West End show and boasting among its past cast members the likes of Richard Attenborough. I was first introduced to Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap years ago, in a newspaper article talking about the furious reactions of audience across the world over Wikipedia revealing the murderer. As I read on, I became fascinated by covenant of secrecy formed between the performers and the audience, as they promised to keep the identity of the culprit hidden from any future viewers. I never got around to reading the Wikipedia page or the play, hoping one day maybe to be a part of this special circle of secret. A few months ago, this dream was realized as I caught a show of the Mousetrap at the St. Martin’s Theatre.
Even before the show starts you feel as if you have been transported in time, from the blinking banner reminding you that the play is on its 65th year to the red curtained and wallpapered theatre with uneven stairs. You feel a sort of comradery with not just the present audience connected by the same love of Agatha Christie mysteries but to all the audience members that had come before and shared this experience. The curtains finally open to the warmly lit Hall of the newly opened inn at Monkwell Manor and the scene is set for a good old who-done-it Agatha Christie Mystery.
(Inside St. Martin’s Theatre filled with Christie fans)
The scene opens with a friendly banter between the Ralstons who wait for their guests to arrive, painting a picture of a young couple comprising of a friendly and competent wife, and a taciturn husband. We are soon told about a murder that has taken place in London over the radio. It is in this ominous tone of the announcement that the guests arrive, only to find themselves stuck in the Manor because of a snowstorm. The rest of the play revolves around the relationship of these seemingly unrelated strangers to the recent murder in London and a past tragedy involving a child. The play is taut with suspense and tension as the strangers share the restricted space of the manor, each hiding a secret of their own. It keeps you at the edge of the seat with its apprehension and excitement till the very end.
Except a change in the cast of the actors and an updated set, watching the play makes you feel as if you have been transported to the past. It sets the stage for a classic drawing room mystery. We are treated to a cast of characters which seem to be straight out of the pages of a classic British mystery. There is the level headed retired army man (Major Metcalf); the detective (Detective-Sergeant Trotter) being helped by a shrewder character (Molly Ralston) in solving his mystery; the too friendly, and thus, equally suspicious youngster with an incongruous name (Christopher Wren), among others. The actors play their characters with gesticulations and accents straight from a 1950s-television show. Unfortunately, being a throwback to the 50s also means it comes equipped with the stereotypes of that time. Thus, it comes with a pantsuit wearing independent woman (Miss Casewell) and an unsavoury foreigner with a dubious character (Mr. Paravicini). The play is self-aware of its rich and celebrated past as it tries to be as authentic as its very first performance, hinted in the duplication of its scenes from its original run as seen in the programme of the show. Thus, making the present audience a part of its history.
The play is definitely not the best production that you will find on the West End or even the best Agatha Christie mystery. It might at times even remind you of a well-produced high school play filled with clichés. Yet, at the heart of it, it is still the Christie mystery that attracts hoards of viewers year after year. It is fun, entertaining and a piece of pure indulgence for Agatha Christie fans. To experience this play by Agatha Christie is to experience a slice of the classic British culture because, as Peter Saunders, the producer of the play till 994, put it, “She [Christie] was as English as the Buckingham Palace, the House of Commons, and the Tower of London”.
(Featured Image: St. Martin’s Theatre- Home to The Mousetrap since 25th March 1974)