It’s the longest running West End show and has by far the longest run of any play in the world, with nearly 29,000 performances to date since it debuted in 1952. So this year, Agatha Christie’s murder mystery The Mousetrap is celebrating its 70th anniversary with a UK tour. Although I am a theatre fan, I feel it’s hard to claim to be a true theatre aficionado if you haven’t seen The Mousetrap before. So I went along to the opening night of its week long run at Manchester’s Opera House to see why this classic play is so popular and has enjoyed such longevity.
If you don’t know the story, it takes place at Monkswell Manor Guest House, owned by newlywed couple Mollie and Giles Ralston. Their opening night sees the arrival of five seemingly random and strange guests, young architect Christopher Wren, snobby older woman Mrs Boyle, young lady visiting back from abroad Leslie Casewell, retired soldier Major Metcalf and Mr Paravicini, who turns up without a booking. And as bad luck would have it, there’s a terrible snowstorm outside rendering them trapped and there has been an apparently unrelated murder in nearby London that the police seem to think isn’t unrelated at all. Detective Sergeant Trotter turns up in the midst of the snowstorm and interrogates the group, believing at least one of them is in terrible danger due to a connection with the recent murder that took place and soon suspects at least one of them of being the murderer.
The Mousetrap has become famed for its twist ending when the murderer is revealed after each suspect appears to be hiding something. And despite not much actually happening – for example, only one on-stage murder is actually committed, the entire story takes place in the guest house and there is just one setting on the stage (the communal living area) – this “whodunnit” thriller keeps audiences guessing in suspense throughout as secrets and hints are tricked and trickled out of everyone.
Unlike some musicals, I don’t think The Mousetrap is a show that could be seen over and over again unless there was a specific actor taking over a role to watch, but it is certainly a must-see for all theatre lovers to experience the brilliance of Agatha Christie’s writing adapted for the stage. It is also perhaps one of few shows that proves that less can be more and by keeping everything else simple, allows audiences to focus solely on the mystery at hand that doesn’t unfold before their eyes until the final scenes.
My only stipulation was, that while the cast for the current tour, consisting of seasoned actors – including some who have been in Eastenders and the likes of Gwyneth Strong (best known for her role in Only Fools and Horses), and John Altman – were great, I would have liked to have seen a more visibly diverse cast. Recent productions have had one – or two at a push – non-White actors and actresses fulfil one or two of the roles, but beyond that they appear to me to be token hires. For a play that has transcended seven decades, while the story may still be the same and it may be set in post-WWII times, that does not mean the cast and characters can’t be diversified. And bar a couple of very “blink and you’ll miss” hints at a couple of cast members’ sexualities, the diversity of the cast and characters is pretty much straight, White, British and middle to upper class. With so many plays and musicals continuing to diversify, will The Mousetrap ever follow suit too?
However, if you either don’t like the sound of The Mousetrap‘s simplicity and dated setting, or if you want a hilariously camp and even more twisted twist to the story, Death Drop may be an alternative for you to consider, which takes the premise of The Mousetrap to new highs and is like a modernised retelling that is definitely complete with a diverse cast.