The Mousetrap: Dame Agatha Christie's nostalgic chestnut gets a dash of camp
by Drew Rowsome -Photos by Seanna Kennedy
Ah, that old chestnut. The reconstruction of the crime!
Yes but some chestnut's age very well and Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, which is still running in London England after opening in 1952, is still a lot of fun. Of course the appeal isn't all in the whodunnit, The Mousetrap is almost the blueprint for all the murder mystery conventions so is now burnished with a glowing patina of camp.
It is almost as if Dame Christie wrote a pre-cognitive piece warning of the dangers of Airbnb. Giles and Mollie Ralston (Andrea Creighton and William Alexander Doyle) have turned their home, the stately Monkswell Manor, into a guest house. Who could have predicted that their grand opening would involve murder?
I adore nursery rhymes. They're so tragic and macabre. That's why children adore them.
A tinny overture plays moody orchestral variations on the nursery rhyme song "Three Blind Mice" then the lights go out hiding the sumptuous set from view. There are footsteps, someone whistling "Three Blind Mice," gunshots, screams and a deep-voiced narrator, in old-time radio style, tells of the murder of a woman named Maureen Lyon. The lights come up and the game is afoot.
Seven people, all with secrets, are trapped in the snowbound Monkswell Manor. And at least two of them are slated to suffer the same fate as Maureen Lyon. The characters are all clichés (though of course they weren't when written or first performed) and the cast deserves credit for producing characters instead of caricatures - though, it must be noted, they do have a great time with side eye, double takes, melodramatic flourishes and the farcical fun of exiting and entering through slamming doors.
I'm the unexpected guest who arrived from nowhere. Out of the storm. Who am I? You don't know. I am the man of mystery.
In particular David John Phillips, as the mysterious stranger Paravicini, revels in his character's glee at being, potentially, the malevolent interloper. The character, being "foreign," has a self-awareness built in that allows Phillips to push right past comedy to the edge of parody. Helly Chester has the Maggie Smith bitchy British dowager role and she milks it to the hilt while also being the vehicle for contemporary commentary that Dame Christie may, or may not, have intended. And while Hugh Ritchie, as dashing as he was as a handsome prince in Into the Woods, as the investigating policeman starts out blustery, when the character unravels in the face of so much deadly deceit and duplicity, we understand.
Ritchie is so dashing that he helps director Seanna Kennedy tease subtext out of the meaty chestnut to bring the audience into 2016. Dan Rowan's Wren has one flower-socked foot out of the closet and milks every innuendo out of his lines. It is a tricky line to flounce along and fortunately Rowan is charismatic enough to make an annoying character, a very suspicious character, charming. I'm not sure if Dame Christie meant for Miss Casewell to be explicitly a lesbian (though the text certainly telegraphs it) but Lauren Sanders flicks her Zippo with panache, has the best sight gag and sets up a Murder She Wrote joke that almost stopped the show in its tracks.
I find policemen very attractive. They're so stern and hard . . . boiled.
The stoic Damien Gulde, all darting glances and feigned innocence, is, like the audience, witness to red herrings, MacGuffins, dubious alibis and improbable coincidences: just like most murder mysteries. I had seen The Mousetrap twice, several memory-erasing decades ago, and I still was fooled by the misdirection. It all wraps up satisfyingly with a final twist stolen from O Henry that made me wish I'd paid more attention right from the start. But it would be hard to summon the intense attention that would require when one is busy luxuriating in a nostalgic classic with a soupçon of camp. I don't know how Hercule Poiroit, Miss Marple or Jessica Fletcher do it.