By Agatha Christie
His Majesty's Theatre
For most people of my vintage, and many bottled in more recent years, Agatha Christie's wonderful, devious books and their innumerable spin-offs in films and television are part of our psyche. In my case, they run even deeper, having written (along with my friend Dave Warner) and staged a series of murder weekends that unashamedly paid homage to her immortal whodunits.
The Mousetrap is the one pillar of the Temple of Agatha I'd yet to wrap my arms around; this mighty edifice has now stood for over 60 years continuously on the West End, the only play ever to become a permanent tourist attraction.
So I went to review the show feeling like an iceberg waiting for The Titanic to show up. The good news is that the great ship sailed past me unscathed, even if it didn't melt me much in its passage.
Christie's agile mind always found a way to avoid formula, but there are some structural constants that let her do her work here. Put enough entertaining characters - in this case eight majors, spinsters, fops, foreigners, vamps, home county types and coppers - to generate a satisfying number of victims, suspects and sleuths in a finite space like Monkswell Manor, the boarding house newly opened by Giles and Mollie Ralston (Gus Murray and Christy Sullivan). Isolate them somehow - a blizzard will do nicely, thank you - and begin killing them off.
It can't fail, never has, and doesn't this time. It defies time and fashion, and gives directors and performers enormous freedom to play to their strengths and their audience's taste.
Director Gary Young lets this production go broad and low, and, by and large, it's a good call. Travis Cotton, as the ostentatious, well-meaning young architect Chris Wren is great fun throughout, as is Robert Alexander's ominous Mr Paravicini and Jacinta John's ambiguous Miss Casewell. Linda Cropper's Mrs Boyle is appalling enough to need murdering and Nicholas Hope's Major Metcalfe, while not having much to do, is solid and dependable enough to make you suspect he might just be the man to do it. Justin Smith plays the detective, Trotter, much in the style of James Corden, which is no bad thing, although Murray and Sullivan's performances as the young owners of the house are a little uncomfortable, mainly because of accents that make them unconvincingly twee.
Christie has never needed to be played for laughs; she secretes enough humour into her characters, her settings and the sheer audacity and logical mischief of her plots, to keep us royally entertained. As time has gone by, of course, the delicious anachronism of it all has given her stuff even more humour and charm.
The Mousetrap, though, is a slight, straightforward work by her standards, despite its fame and longevity. Too many of the characters' secrets are inevitable too early, so the structure of the denouement, if not the actual identity of the murderer/s, is fairly quickly exposed.
For that reason, it's easy to drift away from the drama in the second act (rather like the second hour of Midsomer Murders on a comfortable Saturday night on the sofa), so some obvious humour serves to keep you alert to, if not especially alarmed by, proceedings.