Review: The Mousetrap, at Comedy Theatre

Indeed, it is easy to forget about worldwide disaster once you are in the grip of a classic murder mystery, no matter how typical the “whodunnit” formula becomes.


Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap is a charming play replete with a charming set and charming actors–it was the play's pervasive charm which left the greatest impression on me.

John Frost’s production of “the world’s longest-running play” reconstructs 1950s Britain through simple but effective design. The stage resembles a classic middle-class interior of its time: bathed in a homely, yellow warmth that contrasts with the dark blue hues which colour the chilly environs of the outside world–and, at times, the interior. Complemented by Isabel Hudson’s costuming, this staging is a loving interpretation of The Mousetrap, made so by its simplicity.

The story takes place in Monkswell Manor, a newly established hotel run by inexperienced young couple Mollie (Anna O’Byrne) and Giles Ralston (Alex Rathbeger). Their humble beginnings are interrupted by the arrival of five peculiar guests: juvenile, eccentric architecture student, Christopher Wren (Laurence Boxhall); cantankerous retired magistrate, Mrs. Boyle (Geraldine Turner); jolly Major Metcalf (Adam Murphy); secretive and masculine Miss Casewell (Charlotte Friels), and the “foreigner” who “just arrive[d]”, Mr. Paravacini (Gerry Connolly). The arrival of Detective Sergeant Trotter (Tom Conroy) following a phone call from the police flips the couple’s lives upside-down, disturbing everything they thought they knew about themselves, each other, and their guests.

Most of the action takes place in the parlour, but there are stairways, hidden rooms, and windows that leave audience members always wondering: what’s going on in there?

Because we are encouraged to imagine and ponder these mysterious, miscellaneous rooms, at no point did the mostly static parlour ever feel claustrophobic. Although, this could also be attributed to the ‘50s soundtrack playing over the radio, lending the set a cosy, nostalgic atmosphere and some period-appropriate bursts of humour.

Nevertheless, it is a murder mystery and our characters are isolated from the outside world due to a blizzard and a cut phone line. Appearing throughout are eerily distorted renditions of nursery rhymes, leaving you rocking with unease at regular intervals.

Due to the play’s generally lighthearted tone, the few tragic moments did, at times, slip into melodrama. Mollie and Christopher’s tearful conversation, for instance, was unconvincing in its tragedy because Christopher has been developed up to this point as a fundamentally unserious character. Boxhall’s masterful performance was perhaps too successful in playing Christopher up as a source of exaggerated and eccentric comic relief.

For all its emphasis on the cliche “no one is what they appear to be”, the supposedly hidden “depth” of Christopher’s character is never truly explored and the same goes for the characters of Giles and Paravacini. However, I was willing to forgive this because The Mousetrap is, in Frost’s words, but a light-hearted “respite… from the challenges we have faced.” For the theatre-going public of 1952, this was war–for us today, it’s a pandemic.

Indeed, it is easy to forget about worldwide disaster once you are in the grip of a classic murder mystery, no matter how typical the “whodunnit” formula becomes.

Although, it would be a mistake to say that there is nothing spectacular about this play. Aside from its shocking (and I mean shocking) plot twist that will leave you audibly whispering “Noooooo!”, The Mousetrap is gifted with a deft wit expressed through the many droll statements of characters like Christopher–“I do love nursery rhymes. They’re so gloomy and macabre. That’s why children like them”. On the other hand are its cheesy jokes–the play ends with Christopher entering with a burnt pie exclaiming “I think it’s done!”–which do not make the show dull, but instead produce a well-drawn caricature.

The audience leave the theatre with smiles on their faces, not in the least because of a sweet final touch during the bows.

The Mousetrap is only running for another month.


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