The Mousetrap, Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury ★★★★

Reviewed for The Reviews Hub:

Everybody knows of The Mousetrap, of course. The production at London’s St Martins Theatre holds the record for being the longest-running theatre production anywhere in the world, having opened in 1952 (in the neighbouring Ambassadors Theatre, transferring to its current home in 1974).

And yet, despite its long run, it seems to be one of those shows that people know of, yet have not seen. That has changed in recent years, with this touring production first debuting as part of the show’s 60th anniversary celebrations in 2012.  And it reveals a classic Agatha Christie conundrum which, far from being a relic of a bygone age, touches on themes which still feel relevant.

Set in the drawing room of a remote country home whose owners have just converted into a guest house, the gradual assemblage of the suspects (and potential victims) does mean that the play’s first half hour is its least satisfying. But each character is interestingly drawn, with Oliver Gully’s Wren and Louise Jameson’s Mrs Boyle springing to fully formed life as soon as their characters step on stage. Jameson in particular delights as the houseguest from hell, finding fault with everything, a TripAdvisor reviewer some six decades too early. Gully, meanwhile, is deliberately grating and overly cheery, the unhappiness beneath the surface becoming apparent long before it is made explicit through dialogue.

As the homeowners who try and keep their customers calm as the snow descends, cutting them all off, Anna Andresen and Nick Barclay spark well off each other. While Tony Boncza’s Major Metcalf and Gregory Cox’s Mr Paravinci struggle with less well-defined roles, Amy Downham turns Miss Casewell into a well-natured if secretive delight.

The crime element kicks into gear with the arrival of Lewis Collier’s Sergeant Trotter, who brings news of a murder in London that may be tied to one or more of the guest house residents. And it is his interactions with the assembled suspects that expose a backstory involving child abuse. Christie’s works are often dismissed as middle-class drawing room froth, but as The Mousetrap shows they often touch on issues that remain contemporary, another possible reason for the play’s ongoing success.

While Collier’s delivery is a little overwrought, often delivered in shouting staccato bursts that can detract from the impact of the unfolding story, several of the second act’s scenes offer moments of true tenderness, particularly between Andresen’s Mollie and Gully’s Wren.

Some subtle lighting effects to denote the passage of time work in tandem with a gorgeous set that provides the perfect backdrop to a play that it is both funnier and more dramatically involving than many a newer work. It is reassuring to know that our industry’s biggest record breaker, on the evidence of this production, fully deserves its crown.

Photo: Hugo Glendinning