The Mousetrap

‘The Mousetrap’ is THE ultimate murder mystery play. Written by Agatha Christie, it is possibly the World’s most famous contemporary thriller. The story was adapted from the radio play (based on the real-life case of Dennis O’Neill) called ‘Three Blind Mice’, which was especially written in 1947, as a birthday present for King George V’s wife, Queen Mary. The stage play had to be renamed, as Emile Littler had used the name play name before the Second World War; Christie’s son-in-law, Anthony Hicks suggested the new title, he had borrowed it from ‘Hamlet’ on Gonzago’s of the murder of the king, his ‘Mousetrap’.

Agatha Christie gave the rights to ‘The Mousetrap’ to her grandson Mathew Prichard for his 9th birthday – he wanted a bike. By the time of Christie’s death in 1976 the play had already made more than £3 million.

The play has run continuously for over 69 years, breaking all records in London’s West End. The 25,000th performance coincided with the unveiling of the Agatha Christie memorial statue in Leicester Square.

The 1990 Russian film version was titled ‘Myshelovka’ (The Shelving!!??).

This wonderful two-hour version is being presented by the Rockingham Theatre Company at the Rockingham Castle Theatre, 8 Attwood Way in Rockingham each Friday, Saturday and Sunday until the 25th of July. Evening shows at 8.00 pm and matinées at 2.00 pm.

The Scene:           1950. The Great Hall at Monkswell Manor in the wilds of Shropshire during a winter storm.

The Set:                 Excellent design by Rob and Sue Walker. Rust coloured walls, a white antique fireplace, a bay window with window seat and olive velvet curtains on a rod. The snowy hedge outside the window was convincing. A door to the kitchen, another to the cellar, a staircase to the upstairs bedrooms and a passage to the library.

The furniture included a three-seat burgundy, studded leather chesterfield sofa and matching armchair. A teak newspaper rack and a fine telephone table with antique French ivory telephone. Centre floor was a large white and green Axminster rug.

A lit wood fire with fireguard and a chair on each side. The overall look was that of luxury.

The set construction:      Rob Walker, Kim Smith, Julia Della Franca, and volunteers. The opening appreciative applause was well-earned. It looked lived in and not a simple box-shaped room.

Lighting:              Chris Spencer, Travis Adams, Kim Smith, and Jackie Hiscox. A nice brass candelabra hanging from ceiling with matching wall lamps.

Sound:                  Ian Brown and Chris Spencer. All on cue. However, there was an earth hum and sound drop out handled very well by actor Beryl Francis when she turned on the radio to silence. Check the busbar inside the amplifier for a thin piece of copper, or the earth shield mesh in the tape recorder’s input plug and socket. Well handled – these things happen.

Stage manager and great Props:               Michelle Lawson, assisted by Travis Adams.

Smart programme from Graphic Design WA

Warm-up man – Sam Taylor (priceless), could he be the murderer?

The bloodcurdling screams of a woman being murdered can be heard. The curtains open.

We find ourselves in Monkswell Manor, which was recently left in a Will to Mollie Ralston (Kirsty Rosenberg), a lady in her mid-thirties  who along with her husband Giles Ralston (Shaun Griffin) have just finished converting the manor to a guesthouse. Whilst waiting for the hotel’s first guests to arrive, Mollie listens to the radio news and learns about a woman murdered in London.

The first arrival is a dishevelled and peculiar young architect and furniture connoisseur, Christopher Wren (Callon Leam). Giles immediately dislikes Wren but Mollie’s maternal instinct takes over. With a blast of chilled air, the fussy and whinging, Mrs Boyle (Beryl Francis – what an old bat) and an affable retired serviceman, Major Metcalf (Rob Walker) arrive together in a taxi from the station, but it dropped them off hundreds of yards from the house. Miss Casewell (Quentin Clapham) a strongly opinionated, brusque young woman is the last of the booked guests to arrive.

After his car crashes into a snow drift an unexpected fifth guest arrives, he is a foppish Italian, dressed in an aubergine coloured, velvet suit with lace cuffs; this is Mr Paravicini (Peter Shaw -delightful) who also seems to be wearing stage makeup. Despite having her suspicions, Mollie gives him the last remaining room.

By the next afternoon, the guest house is totally cut off from the nearest town by the deep snow drifts. The telephone rings, it is Superintendent Hogben of the Berkshire Police who tells Mollie that the girl murdered in London was from a neighbouring farm and that the killer is thought to be in the area; so, he has sent Detective Sergeant Trotter (Mark Dooley) – on skis – to protect the guests. However, soon after his arrival Detective Trotter has his suspicions that the killer may already be in the Manor.

Director Sue Walker and her equally talented assistant director Sue Lawson, both with years of top rate acting are surprisingly directing for the first time, their standard is amazing. This play demands perfect pace, clear diction and a full understanding of the characters being played. The cast are very well rehearsed and have perfect chemistry. I watched the cast’s expressions and body language, there were plenty of red herring clues, which worked wonderfully as the audience changed suspicions from one character to the next. Superb job. A couple of new-to-the-stage actors performed flawlessly with the elaborate and skilfully written script.

This was the third time that I have seen a production of this play, but the cast with their skilled redirection had me wondering if I had remembered the murderer incorrectly. Every actor’s performance would have brought joy to Agatha herself.

This quality production proves that Rockingham can tackle any genre and not simply farce and comedy. Many congratulations.

By tradition, at the end of each performance, audiences are asked not to reveal the identity of the killer to anyone outside the theatre, to ensure that the end of the play is not spoilt for future audiences.