'There are six of you here listening to me. One of you is a killer.'
Despite Agatha Christie's prediction that her play would run for just eight months, The Mousetrap is approaching its 70th year, and it's easy to see why. Delightfully silly and engaging, the play hits all of Christie's signature beats - an old country house cut off from the world, false identities, old sins casting long shadows, and a group of innocent (or are they?) people trapped with a murderer. It's a lighter, brighter counterpart to And Then There Were None, and Christie seems to satirise her most typical tropes and archetypes - and judging by last night's performance, it's great fun for the actors too.
The Mousetrap has a history of casting well-known TV actors - a young James Grout as Giles, a middle-aged Nicholas Courtney taking a different military role as Major Metcalf - and the Playhouse's version continued this tradition, casting Gwyneth Strong (Only Fools and Horses) as the waspish, unpleasant Mrs Boyle. Strong's performance was one of the most natural in the play, and she commanded the scenes she was in, utterly convincing as a most difficult hotel guest.
Strong's wasn't the only standout performance, although many of the other actors made their characters less grounded and more playful. Lewis Chandler was an irrepressible, gleefully obnoxious Christopher Wren, while David Alcock added a Dracula-like air to the mysterious Mr Paravicini. Harriett Hare was occasionally a little over-the-top for the more serious character of Mollie Ralston, but brought real heart to her emotional scenes. The cast played The Mousetrap's inherent humour very well, getting many laughs out of the audience even as they ramped up the tension in the second half - and there were gasps of genuine surprise when the murderer was finally revealed.
Alongside the acting, I have to commend Rocket Scenery's excellent set design. They put together a thoroughly convincing manor house drawing room, complete with wood panelling, a stained-glass window (which several characters climbed in and out of), and back rooms that you could see through doorways as people entered and exited the stage. Monkswell Manor came alive in the Playhouse, which was invaluable during the crime reconstruction scenes - there was very little suspension of disbelief needed to imagine the characters scattered around the stately home.
For Christie completists like myself, this production of The Mousetrap is a must-see; for newcomers, it's an ideal introduction to the world of the Queen of Crime, an excellent primer on the country house murder mystery. Whatever your motive for going, you're bound to have an entertaining night.