Agatha Christie’s play ‘The Mousetrap’ was in the record books even before Harold Macmillan was prime minister and casts a long theatrical shadow over all other murder mysteries.
Now, after sixty years in London, the Gothic grandeur of the Great Hall in Monkswell Manor is touring the UK to celebrate its diamond anniversary with a sparkling cast.
The play is a classic Christie whodunit, its secret kept mainly by the unique ritual of asking the audience not to divulge the identity of the killer to anyone after every performance.
Set in a newly-opened and snowbound guesthouse, murder and madness menace the guests as they are probed by Sergeant Trotter played strongly by Jonathan Woolf.
Playing the inexperienced proprietor, Mollie Ralston, Joanna Croll exudes her brittle vulnerability - in contrast to her husband Giles, played by Henry Luxemburg, whose sense of security combats the increasing layers of unease and suspicion that each new guest brings with them.
Quite superb is Anne Kavanagh playing Mrs. Boyle, more deeply complex is Miss Casewell (Ellie Jacob) who portrays a typical ‘modern’ woman, and Chris Gilling in his role as Major Metcalf.
Ryan Saunders,playing Christopher Wren, brings a more florid performance, sometimes straying into pastiche, but crackles with energy that releases some of the claustrophobic tension that builds up on stage.
The much admired Michael Fenner holds back the expected flamboyance which the role of Mr Paravicini demands but his timing is startling and gives a sharp edge to the suspense .
The pace and rhythm of the play rises to a crescendo until, as the twists in the plot unravel and we hold our breath, the culprit is revealed.
Hastings is, possibly, the perfect setting for such a venerable piece of theatre, the feel of the play is very ‘Foyles War’ and the characters could easily have spent their summer strolling along the seafront or taking in afternoon tea in a Bexhill cafe.
As a piece of classic British theatre and a showcase for top notch West End quality, this performance was outstanding.
It’s no mystery how it earned its place in the record books, perhaps more baffling is why it’s taken so long to play to audiences outside of London.
Long may it continue to keep audiences spellbound. Dame Agatha would have been pleased with its trip to the south coast.