Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, 70th Anniversary Tour, Grand Opera House, York, snowed in until Saturday, 7.30pm nightly plus 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday matinees. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
PLEASING symmetry finds Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap retaining its habit of playing the Grand Opera House every three years since the mouse first escaped its London trap for a Diamond Anniversary Tour in 2013.
Giles and Mollie Ralston (Laurence Pears and Joelle Dyson) may be novice hosts at the newly opened Monkswell Manor Guest House, but the furniture and wallpaper at this converted Berkshire manor house look suitably well-worn to match a comfortingly ageing play in its 71st year, still featuring the original set design with its grand entrances and closed doors, wood panelling and faded carpets.
Snow is falling, denoted by somewhat large, sporadic flakes on coats and hats, as each guest arrives, greeted by thoroughly decent, off the cuff, somewhat grouchy Giles and very organised Mollie, who turn out to have something of Fawlty Towers’ Basil and Sybil about them in their mutual point scoring.
This is old England where rationing still simplifies the menu; the radio informing of a murder in London is still called a wireless, and every man wears a dark coat, a light scarf and a felt hat (just like the chap seen exiting the scene of the crime apparently), in an early nibble at a false trail. The audience’s laughter is of the knowing kind, happy to be played by Christie’s mind games.
Christie has assembled a rum assortment of guests ripe for both humour and something altogether darker. “All our guests are unpleasant or odd,” Giles will later observe ruefully of this eccentric bunch.
Enter schizophrenic young architect Christopher Wren (Elliot Clay), a practical joker with a streak of Peter Pan in his refusal to grow up, outwardly charming but crazed inside.
Next come sourpuss old stick and former magistrate Mrs Boyle (Gwyneth Strong, with a bristling performance to match that surname); brusque lesbian Miss Casewell (a clipped Essie Barrow), and sinister Mediterranean man of mystery Mr Paravicini (Kieran Brown, parading his Barricade Boys singing chops too).
He is the only one to arrive without a booking, his car having overturned in the snow, or so he claims, but then again, he could be casing the joint. Brown’s melodramatic performance, deliberately dodgy accent to boot, is just about straight, but like Clay’s Wren, he is all the more humorous for straying towards campery.
Sanguine Major Metcalf (Nicholas Maude, understudying the unavailable Todd Carty all week) fits in well. Then whoosh, last through the door, or rather, announcing his entrance with a tap on the window, is young Detective Sergeant Trotter (Joseph Reed), who has defied the inclement weather on skis. In another gentle bend to humour under Ian Talbot and Denise Silvey’s direction, he swings them around his head, forcing guests to duck each time he turns.
Once the guest house and phone line are both cut off, the humour begins to play second fiddle to the mystery (except for Brown’s mischief-making Mr Paravicini) as Reed’s Trotter conducts his investigations with rising frustration.
The truth will out, revelation by revelation, as to why everyone is there. All the while, the nursery rhyme refrain of Three Blind Mice plays its haunting part in Christie’s venerable story.
The Mousetrap, anachronistic English Fifties’ entertainment to the conservative manner born, is not the greatest play ever written, with a little stiffness in the dialogue’s limbs and an afternoon nap in its tempo in the second half.
However, without today’s gruesome gore, it is jolly good fun, replete with the requisite twists, turns and teases, suspicions and suspense, allied to psychological nous, to keep you guessing in the dark as the nerves tingle.
The affable cast members, with their dapper dress and plummy accents, have a period flavour about them that delights, and no rotter will surely defy Trotter’s request at the final curtain to keep schtum about whodunnit.
By Charles Hutchinson