Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is kicking off its 70th anniversary tour in Edinburgh for a limited run. If there was ever a time to catch a murder play written by the best-selling novelist of all time (according to the Guinness Book of World Records), this would be it.
The Mousetrap is a genre-defining murder mystery that has over the years sustained a worthy reputation of its own, alongside its creator. It was inspired by the real-life case of Dennis O’Neill, who died after he and his brother suffered extreme abuse while in foster care in 1945.
The tour show, directed by Ian Talbot and Denise Silvey, takes place in one grand room at Monkswell Manor, a remote countryside guesthouse. Over the course of three days, a group of seven strangers find themselves snowed in while news of a murderer on the loose creates the perfect environment for suspicion and unease to reign. When a police sergeant played convincingly stressed by Joseph Reed arrives and a PG-style murder follows, the guests and hosts are all called into question with various theories thrown to keep the audience guessing, whodunnit?
The plot has been borrowed and parodied in a million different ways. When it was first staged, The Mousetrap was a contemporary play, but in 2023 it is marvelously preserved piece of history of a bygone era. It even has an original “cast member” present to this day as the late Deryck Guyler can still be heard, via a recording, reading the radio news bulletin. It is these incidental facts that add to its charm, as well as the dry British humour we are so famous for.
Thankfully well-known stars, although welcome, do not outshine the show. Whether through happenstance or a sincere effort by the cast, the celebrities Todd Carty (EastEnders, Grange Hill) starring as Major Metcalf and Gwyneth Strong (Only Fools and Horses, EastEnders) as Mrs. Boyle, blend into their roles, allowing the story to speak for itself. Elliot Clay and Kieran Brown receive the most laughs as Christopher Wren as Mr Paravicini, the most unconventional characters of the bunch. It is quite a feat by the performers to hold the audience’s attention through suspense, as very little action actually takes place and we stay in the one setting throughout. Despite their efforts, the ending does seem a bit sudden given the massive build up to the reveal. The plot may be simple and the characters a little hammed up, however that can be chalked up to viewing it through a modern lens as is still provides quite an entertaining evening. One small issue that can be easily rectified in future is the volume of the mics, which even in a packed out but respectfully quiet theatre made some lines difficult to pick up.
What makes The Mousetrap special is the spectacle. It is a show that is still somehow persevering and preserved, written by a famous novelist and providing a window into another time. There is nothing else in the world like it and it is definitely worth seeing if only for that fact alone.