There’s nothing like a great whodunnit and Agatha Christie’s long-running murder mystery The Mousetrap still sets the bar, writes Claire Trolio.
The Mousetrap, John Frost for Crossroads Live
His Majesty’s Theatre, 11 April 2023
As the longest running show in history, I’ve been intrigued by The Mousetrap’s success. Since opening in London’s West End in 1952, the only halt in its continuous run was when the theatres closed due to COVID restrictions.
Is Agatha Christie’s play really that good? I’ll admit that I suspected sheer determination and gimmick played a heavy part in keeping this whodunnit on stage.
And while I still think that’s true, it’s hard to keep a gimmick alive for seven whole decades without substance to back it up.
Experiencing the Australian touring production I can see that The Mousetrap’s appeal lies in its perfect embodiment of the murder mystery genre.
Five guests gather at a boarding house in the English countryside as snow falls outside. Isabel Hudson has recreated the manor’s drawing room in its unmistakable English style, based on the original West End set, and filled it with props and costumes that deposit the action precisely within a 1950s setting.
The manor’s owners, Mollie and Giles Ralston (Anna O’Byrne and Alex Rathgeber), show each curious character to their rooms.
There’s the eccentric, foppish Christopher Wren (Laurence Boxhall), uppity older woman Mrs Boyle (Geraldine Turner), even-keeled, retired army man Major Metcalf (Adam Murphy), clandestine traveller Miss Casewell (Charlotte Friels) and the elusive Italian gent Mr Paravicini (Gerry Connolly). Shortly after they become snowed in, Detective Sergeant Trotter (Tom Conroy) arrives on skis to investigate a murder that’s occurred nearby.
It’s classic Christie, where each character has their own secrets and it’s the detective’s task to uncover who the murderer is before another victim falls. There’s much mystery and a juicy twist. It’s formulaic, genre-defining in fact: that’s why it’s so compelling.
In this production, director Robyn Nevin is faced with the challenge of making the show her own without altering what is clearly successful.
Trauma, class clashes, queerness, xenophobia, fragility of human relationships, economic downturn: all are raised in the text and retain contemporary significance. Nevin shows compassion and generosity to each character.
I think it’s fundamental to The Mousetrap’s success that each production is played with sincerity. The audience’s enjoyment hinges on trusting everyone and no one; each character needs to be played earnestly while also drawing suspicion.
But let’s not forget that The Mousetrap is also a comedy, and the players must be successful in eliciting laughs. Impeccable performances are delivered by each cast member. Nevin ensures this iteration is polished and easy-viewing.
I particularly enjoyed the confidence that Friels gave Miss Casewell, a character who doesn’t comfortably fit in that 1950s British society.
Boxhall’s Hugh Grant-esque Christopher is charming (even if his comedy sometimes overshadows his sincerity), and his rapport with O’Byrne’s sympathetic Mollie is a joy to watch. Each performer offers their character with ease and candour.
A murder mystery is seductive. An audience tries their hand at detective work, trying to outsmart those on stage, forgetting for long enough that a good crime writer is only going to reveal just as much as they want you to know, with a few red herrings thrown in.
The Mousetrap is an exquisite piece of writing that glistens thanks to an accomplished production team, ensuring that there’s still bait in the mousetrap all these years later.
Pictured top: Alex Rathgeber, Laurence Boxhall, Anna O’Byrne, Tom Conroy and Adam Murphy in ‘The Mousetrap.’ Photo: Brian Geach
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