Agatha Christie's 'The Mousetrap' first premiered on West End stages in 1952. It has run continuously since then, reaching its 25,000th performance on 18 November 2012. Over the years, many have tried to uncover the secret to the play's success. No one can really come up with a definitive answer. Its endurance in the hearts of audiences even surprised the author herself. So, is it really worth seeing?
Pieter Toerien Productions bring the best of international theatre to Joburg stages. 'The Mousetrap' undoubtedly falls into this category.
I must admit that going to watch this production, I was without expectation. I am aware of Agatha Christie's great literary contribution, but I have never gotten around to reading her works somehow. I am however, a big fan of the 2017 film adaptation of her murder mystery novel 'Murder on The Orient Express'. As such, I went into the theatre with a vague impression of what 'The Mousetrap' might be about.
The year is 1952. Mollie and Giles Ralston (played by Melissa Haiden and Mark Sykes respectively) have just opened a guest house an hour or so away from London. Trouble ensues immediately, as the couple and their four expected house guests are snowed in for the evening. A surprise guest (Mr Paravicini - played by West End veteran Mark Wynter) then arrives, adding to the complicated tangle of character personalities.
Mollie later receives an ominous call from the police. A person wearing a 'dark coat, light scarf and soft hat' has murdered a woman in London. The police suspect that the inhabitants of Monkswell Manor Guest House may be in grave danger. Upon the arrival of young police sergeant Trotter (played by Aiden Scott), the audience is pulled into a curious game of whodunnit. He desperately tries to pry through each characters' deep wall of secrecy to uncover their connection to the crime. Things then take a turn for the worse, as the murderer strikes again.
Ultimately, the murderer turns out to be the character you least expect. Alas, that is all I am allowed to give away. Although, the real fun of this play is in the guess work, so I suppose it's better I not spoil it.
The play is almost too neat for its own good. It unfolds in perfectly timed sequences. As a result, there is a lack of convincing high stakes for the characters involved. This may be because the actors isolate themselves somewhat. I would expect to see more from an experienced ensemble cast. Veteran actor Mark Wynter's performance stands out from the rest. His natural ease on stage and comic repertoire break the most tense moments. He is unafraid to take liberties with his character and it pays off. Hopefully as the cast ease into their run they will all gain the confidence to improvise a little.
Nonetheless, each actor gives just enough to their character to make them intriguing (and worthy of being the murderer). It must be noted that Dame Christie weaves clashing personalities together with wonderful elegance.
The set and costume design of the production are playfully nostalgic. There is also a very real sense of impending danger created by the set. As the action unfolds it becomes similar to a live action game of Clue! Costume designer Marcel Meyer has given each character their own distinctive costume, reflective of their hidden personalities. Audiences may not be aware of the manipulation going on here, but every item of clothing plays into convincing you of who the murderer is!
'The Mousetrap' is not the greatest piece of theatre that I have ever seen. It will not rip into your soul. But, it is the perfect alternative to spending an evening watching reboots of 1980's police procedurals. This is murder mystery at its finest. The story is not overly complex or twisted. Yet you are bound to be surprised by its conclusion. The characters are endearing enough to hold your interest, too. Perhaps, the best thing about this witty piece of theatre is the secret you get to keep at the end of it. Remember, everyone is a suspect.
Directed by Jonathan Tafler
Cast: Mark Wynter, Melissa Haiden, Mark Sykes, Matthew Lotter, Michele Maxwell, Malcolm Terrey, Shannyn Fourie and Aidan Scott.
Set by Nadine Minaar
Costumes by Marcel Meyer