Monday 1 April 2013

The Mousetrap

St. Martin’s Theatre
26th February, 2013

I saw performance number 25,114 of The Mousetrap in London, and although it has now played 60 years in the West End, I don’t know what the secret is to its longevity and I question what it is still doing in the West End.

Agatha Christie essentially gives us a murder mystery but as with most Christie mysteries, there’s a twist and things aren’t as simple as first thought. I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying this as we are surely used to this with crime drama by now and after seeing the touring production of Spider’s Web a few years ago, I was expecting it to be not so straightforward a Who-Dunnit? At the end of the play, a cast member steps forward and tells us that now we know the ending, not to divulge the secret of The Mousetrap to anyone else, so I won’t ruin the ending for you, but I didn’t find it that engaging as I have almost forgot the specificities of it!

One of the main reasons I go to the theatre is to see performances, as one of my main interests is acting, however it is fair to say that it is the story that drives the play forward. The performances appeared to be a bit caricature but nicely move the plot along but didn’t quite do enough to cover up any signs that Geoff Bullen’s production is a little creaky.

The opening music is nicely puzzling and is fitting for a murder mystery and the Three Blind Mice (the original title to the radio play) tune evoked a sense of childhood games which nicely reflects the idea of the play being a game – something to solve. This compounds with the title The Mousetrap conjuring images of board games and such like.

Cleverly, the play keeps you guessing who the murderer might be and there are many signs, clues and red herrings along the way – even in the programme’s cast list! Many of the characters wear similar hats, coats and scarves and there’s a long-running joke of seeing characters going off through one exit and then coming on fairly quickly by another door as if the whole room was a set! This could be a nice theatrical in-joke alluding to there being no rooms offstage but it also means that the murder could be possibly done by anyone of them as it is so easy to get from one place to another in the house.

There are some nice links with Hamlet (which contains the play The Mousetrap) in the form of repeating one’s actions to try and catch-out the murderer but I feel that other comparisons to Shakespeare are limited. The very ending sees someone rush onstage with a burnt meal declaring “I think it’s done!” which, although could be a nice theatrical, self-conscious ending, seemed bit cheesy.

I feel that the real mystery of The Mousetrap is how it’s been running for so long. Not to sound cruel, but it seems a piece of pure entertainment and might have done even in its hey-day. Nothing wrong with that, although when there are so many brilliant plays in the West End at the moment such as The Audience, Quartermaine’s Terms, Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Old Times, Peter and Alice, etc., it seems a shame for people to be flocking to it on its UK Tour excited to see something which sounds excellent because it’s been running for over 60 years. If you don’t see many plays I wouldn’t recommend this one as there are far many more superior ones out there. In terms of long-running plays, I totally recommend Stephen Mallatratt’s The Woman in Black (also touring this year) based on Susan Hill’s novel.

As for The Mousetrap, I realise Christie’s writing is popular and it is undoubtedly clever as well as fairly enjoyable and, considering it was a Tuesday matinee, the auditorium was fairly full, but I think there are better things to see. The seats in the Upper Circle were comfortable although fairly old-fashioned and I paid full-price for my ticket (around £16?) although I could have moved forward I suppose.

I perhaps feel that I’m being generous with my three stars but it is a triumph for anything to run for this long and the production company does do a lot for young people in the theatre and I certainly would recommend that you see it for the experience of it.

Interestingly, I saw The Mousetrap on the same day as The Audience, so it’s great to have gone from one institution to another (in the form of HM The Queen) and in terms of theatrical institutions (The Mousetrap/ Agatha Christie to Dame Helen Mirren) and from the world’s longest running play to one of the world’s newest plays in one day.

The Mousetrap is playing at St. Martin’s Theatre in London’s West End and is also on tour throughout the UK.

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