The Mousetrap is the longest running show in theatre history, and to mark its 60th anniversary the play is currently on its first ever tour. One of the great ‘whodunnits’, its timeless appeal is rooted in a gripping story that keeps twisting and turning to the end.
The Agatha Christie classic – with an ending the cast traditionally appeals for the audience to keep to themselves – is littered with more red herrings than a series of The Killing and, for this production, is served up with a great dollop of British camp.
Post-war newlyweds the Ralstons (Jemma Walker and Bruno Langley) have opened up their manor as a guest house, and the first guests find themselves snowed in and cut off from the outside world. But a murder is in the news, and from the mysterious foreigner Paravicini (Karl Howman) to the cantankerous old battleaxe Mrs Boyle (Elizabeth Power) really who they seem to be?
Set in the living room of an impressive stately home, the show looks impressive and fills the space of the Empire well. For a straight play, it stands up to the distractions of a rustling crowd.
Director Ian Watt-Smith interprets the first act in a modern way it’s hard to imagine it was written – young Christopher Wren’s (Steven France) naïve front is camper than a row of tents and occasionally milked for cheap laughs, while Karl Howman’s delivery relishes the double entendre rather than the panto baddie. In places, it’s more Clue than Cluedo.
The pace picks up in the second act, where Christie’s great storytelling is allowed to speak for itself as the mystery unravels. The serviceable ensemble (completed by Graham Seed, the Archers’ former Nigel Pargetter, as Major Metcalf and Bob Saul as Sergeant Trotter) is not an especially memorable one, but together the cast makes their way through the script well enough, as each character is put in the frame and the story shifts. It’s still clever, entertaining and watchable.
A rare opportunity to see a true theatre classic on the doorstep.
The Mousetrap is on at the Empire until Saturday, April 6.