The Mousetrap: Manchester Opera House

Agatha Christie’s play The Mousetrap is the stuff of theatrical legend, having run non-stop in the West End since its première in November 1952. This UK tour marks the show’s diamond anniversary.

In a sense, The Mousetrap follows the classic Christie formula: a group of characters connected to a murder, confined in one location until the mystery can be solved. In this case, young married couple Mollie and Giles Ralston have taken in their first guests at the Monkswell Manor Guest House. Heavy snowfall cuts them off from the outside world, but does not stop the arrival of Sergeant Trotter, a policeman investigating the murder of a woman in London linked to the manor and its inhabitants.

The quaint Britishness of Christie’s characters and their dialogue is tempered by a sinister back-story involving criminal neglect of children and the nursery rhyme Three Blind Mice. This is the murderer’s signature—the sound of the tune being whistled makes for an atmospheric opening to the play.

All of the action takes place in a large drawing room at the guest house, physically confining the characters and creating a greater sense of tension. The detailed set has an old-fashioned grandeur, with carved wooden panelling and a large fireplace—different sources of light allow for subtle changes in atmosphere, while various doors leading off the room enable swift entrances and exits.

Sterling performances from the entire cast, both individually and as a collective, ensure that tension is sustained as the plot unfolds. Both Anna Andresen (Mollie Ralston) and Amy Downham (Miss Casewell) in particular draw the audience in by hinting cryptically at their characters’ hidden pasts. When it comes, the twist in the tale is an audible shock to the audience. The subsequent final moments arguably seem a little hurried, but this may be due to the play overrunning slightly on press night.

Gentle moments of comedy lighten the mood—passing comments on politics are uttered with knowing glances at the audience. Each character arrives in a dark coat, pale scarf and felt trilby, matching the given description of the murder suspect. The biggest laughs however are reserved for Oliver Gully, as the endlessly enthusiastic and physically comical Christopher Wren, and Gregory Cox as the flamboyant, theatrical Mr Paravicini.

It is clear to see why The Mousetrap has become such a popular classic. Agatha Christie’s novels endure because they are both timeless and of their time—but once translated to the stage, atmosphere and pace come to the fore and ensure that The Mousetrap is a gripping, thoroughly enjoyable watch.

This review was originally published on the British Theatre Guide online.

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