Unconnected to her Hercule Poirot series, The Mousetrap was written in 1947 by Agatha Christie as a radio play commissioned for Queen Mary’s 80th birthday. Christie adapted it first into a novel and then into a play in 1952. After 60 successful years, this stalwart of London’s West End has finally embarked on its first-ever tour.
Upon opening their new guest house, Mr and Mrs Ralston (Bruno Langley, Jemma Walker) are upset when a snowstorm means the couple and their guests are cut off from the outside world. Things begin to get worse when it appears there’s a connection between a murder in London and somebody in the isolated building.
There’s more humour in The Mousetrap than usually found in Christie’s novels and these lighter moments are a pleasant relief as, characterised by the single wood-panelled set, director Ian Watt-Smith is limited in how engrossing he can make the stiff-upper-lip behaviour. There are some interesting themes, most notably Britain’s class divide (the haughty Mrs Boyle’s line about how working-class people should serve her) which, since the play’s debut, have demonstrated how the burgeoning middle-class continues to blur its distinction from a more rigid industrialist context. But these ideas are mentioned too infrequently and in little depth, driving the play into banality and dreariness.
The overwhelming problem is how far into the story the murder occurs. The draw of Christie’s work is in analysing her characters and puzzling over the facts to determine the killer’s identity. This production dedicates too much time to character establishment, leaving the final discovery of the murderer garbled and hurried. Combined with some lacklustre performances, The Mousetrap feels like a last ditch attempt to hang onto a way of life more associated with the British Empire, one which would never recover its former glory in a post-war UK. So upsettingly, this selection of Christie’s otherwise impressive canon is a disappointingly mediocre example of the prolific writer’s capabilities.
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