Imagine the scene. As a blizzard rampages on, a young couple prepares to open their guesthouse for the first time. The year is 1952, and the news of a murder emanates from the wireless into the entrance hallway of this grand country home. The enigmatic guests arrive one by one, but as the snow continues to fall, soon they are confined.
Welcome to The Mousetrap.
For 62 years, Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap has been captivating audiences in its London home and I was given the opportunity to see a touring performance of the play by Adam Spiegel Productions at the beautiful King’s Theatre in Edinburgh. There is no Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot here, but this play is undeniably Christie’s. From the idiosyncratic country home, to the Cluedo-style whodunit storyline, and, of course, the twists no one would predict, The Mousetrap remains the ultimate murder mystery.
The cast of Adam Spiegel’s production of The Mousetrap
Three Blind Mice
The title of the play stems from the nursery rhyme Three Blind Mice. Act One opens with the murder of a woman, fresh out of prison after serving a sentence for child neglect. She is found with a note saying: “this is the first”, and a picture of three little mice. This is to be a recurring theme in the play.
Meanwhile, the guests begin to arrive at Monkswell Manor, the guesthouse run by the inexperienced Giles and Mollie Ralston. First we meet Christopher Wren, a kooky young man who claims to be an architect. Soon follows the demanding Mrs. Boyle and the amiable Major Metcalfe. The next guest is the inscrutable Miss Casewell, who exudes a suspicious air. A fifth, unexpected guest appears at Monkswell Manor after he claims his car is stuck in the snow. This is the eccentric Mr Paravicini, who provides little information about himself or his circumstances. As with all of Christie’s stories, it is clear everyone has a past.
The drama really kicks off when Sergeant Trotter arrives, announcing that amongst the residents of Monkswell Manor are the remaining ‘two mice’ on the murderer’s list. As the guesthouse remains cut off from the rest of the world, it is not long before another murder is committed. But will Sergeant Trotter catch the killer before the ‘third mouse’ is exterminated? Or is this drama much more complicated than it seems?
Don’t worry; there will be no spoilers here. The Mousetrap has a tradition of secrecy, where the audience is asked not to tell anyone who did it. This is one of the reasons the play remains so popular today.
The Mousetrap is the longest running play of all time. So what is its secret? Ms. Christie herself gave the following analysis: “It is the sort of play you can take anyone to. It’s not really frightening. It’s not really horrible. It’s not really a farce, but it has a little bit of all these things and perhaps that satisfies a lot of different people.”
There is plenty of drama here, and a subtle humour to provide some light relief. But part of its real appeal, in my opinion, is the escapism it provides. For Christie the play was set in current times, but for a modern audience it is offers a glorious flash of the good old days. The set of this particular production was divine: opulent oak walls housed chintzy furniture, antique portraits and, of course, the obligatory fireplace.
Then there is Christie’s expert characterisation. From the young and zesty Christopher, to the fastidious Mrs. Boyle, each character has a unique element to bring to the mix. My favourite in this production was Mr Paravicini, played by Michael Fenner. Paravicini is like a cross between an enigmatic Count Dracula and an eccentric old uncle. He provides some of the best lines that diffuse tense moments.
Sixty-two Years Young
The Mousetrap continues to attract massive audiences from all over the world any production would be jealous of. Despite its age, this remains a play that everyone today can enjoy, with its careful mix of drama and farce. I highly recommend you go see it but if you do, be sure to respect the tradition and keep who did it a secret. That way The Mousetrap’s legacy may live on for another sixty years.