The “Meh” trap

Publicity image for The MousetrapA national tour of The Mousetrap is long overdue, and it’s a decent play that’s worth seeing. And yet …

So, after sixty years, finally a chance to see The Mousetrap outside of the West End. And so it should. No play, however, successful, should be treated as the West End’s property indefinitely. When a play is that popular, it’s only right that as many people as possible should have the chance to see it. Yes, anyone who wants to see a West End play that badly is welcome to book a holiday in London, but that’s a very expensive way of doing it. No, as far is I’m concerned, the more, the merrier.

The Detective did it.

When a play attains this kind of mythical status, it has a lot to live up to. Everybody, even West End audiences, has to brace themselves for the occasional dud. But for something in the top ten longest-running plays, let alone the world record holder, expectations go up a few notches. Well, I can now advise the The Mousetrap is no West End dud: it’s a decent mystery that’s faithful to the format that Agatha Christie created so successfully, and true to form, it keeps people guessing to the end.

The Detective did it.

In a rare Christie story with no Marple or Poirot, this story takes place at Monskwell Manor, newly-open by a hotel run by a young couple. On the opening night, they host a whole array of weird and wonderful single travellers; none of them known to each other, and no-one but themselves to vouch for who they really are. Unknown to them, however, a woman has just been murdered nearby. Not that she’s be missed too much: she and her (now-deceased) husband were jailed for their brutal foster caring of three children. The youngest died, no-one’s sure what happened to the other two, and who knows what revenge they’re plotting.

The Detective did it.

Then clues start appearing about the “three blind mice”, once used to describe the three children, now used by the killer for the three he holds responsible for the child’s death. Second to go is the obnoxious magistrate who send those three children to the carers in the first place. Who is the third blind mouse trapped in the hotel, and what did the final intended victim do to feel the killer’s wrath? All the characters’ alibis are questionable, heaven knows what’s in any of their pasts, but it’s only at the ending – where the one person whose story had the least scrutiny reveals his true colours – that the tension ramps up to a satisfying conclusion.

The Detective did it.

But whilst it’s a decent play, there’s just a sense of something missing from a play of this standing. The best mysteries are the ones that not only keep the audience guessing all the way, but once the mystery is solved and the story is looked on in reverse, it all makes sense. This doesn’t quite achieve this – it’s easy to look back and understand the killer’s opportunity and motive, but we never really get to know why he’s the sort of person who’s choose murder as his method of revenge. We don’t get to know the other characters in much depth either, with character development largely limited to who was where doing what at the time of the crimes.

The Detective did it.

Ultimately, I just feel this is a play that rests on its reputation first and the actual play second. The Mousetrap is very much part of the furniture in the West End, just as Shakespeare is part of the furniture in theatre a a whole. There can be little doubt that a lot of people see The Mousetrap (or Shakespeare) because of its legendary status.I don’t blame them for living off the legend – any other West End show with legendary status would do the same. But when I look at other shows in the top ten, there were usually good reasons why they were different, such as a moving drama of Blood Brothers, the superbly-crafted tension of The Woman in Black or the extraordinary gamble that was Cats. The Mousetrap, I have to say, doesn’t feel any better or worse than the rest of Agatha Christie’s stage repertoire

The Detective did it.

I was pleased that Durham’s Gala Theatre was included on the tour – far too often plays that are perfectly stageable in Durham ignore the city. So everything that resists the Gala’s slide to theatre-free venue is welcome. But the main attraction of this play is curiosity over what the longest-running play is like. If you’re a fan of Agatha Christie’s stage plays, I’m confident you’ll like this one too. If you’re not, The Mousetrap won’t change your mind.

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