Saturday 20 January 2018

after 60 years in london, dublin sets the mousetrap

The world's longest-running play is having a run in our capital as the Agatha Christie mystery tours to mark its anniversary. Andrea Smith grabs a taste of nostalgia as the famous cast hits the road

Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

There are several must-dos on any visit to London that have pretty much remained a constant over the years. A trip to Buckingham Palace for the Changing of the Guard, and a spin on the London Eye are all standard, but for the past 60 years, visitors have also flocked to the West End to catch Agatha Christie's classic whodunnit, The Mousetrap.

It's the world's longest-running stage production, and 403 actors and 203 understudies have appeared in over 25,000 performances of the witty murder-mystery. Richard Attenborough and his wife, Sheila Sim, took the leading roles when it first opened at The Ambassadors Theatre in 1952, before moving to its current home at St Martin's Theatre after 21 years. And to mark its 60th anniversary, the show is now touring for the first time, performing in 60 different towns over 60 weeks around the UK. Well 59 UK ones and one Irish one, to be precise, as it is also coming to the Bord Gais Energy Theatre in Dublin later this month.

I caught up with the touring production in Brighton recently, where the classic Christie drawing-room romp was weaving its magic on the pretty seaside town. The play is set in the 1950s, and it transports the audience, weaned on a diet of CSI forensics wizardry and cutting-edge technology, back to an era where communications were limited and murder investigations were a curiously haphazard affair.

Bruno Langley, aka Todd Grimshaw from Coronation Street, and Jemma Walker, aka Sasha Perkins in EastEnders, play Giles and Mollie Ralston, a recently married couple who have become the new owners of the Monkswell Manor guesthouse. On the day they welcome their first guests, a radio news report reveals that a woman has been strangled in London and her murderer is on the loose. The guests include the camp Christopher Wren (Steven France), complaining Mrs Boyle (Elizabeth Power), old curmudgeon Major Metcalf (Graham Seed), and stern and somewhat manly Miss Casewell (Claire Wilkie). They're all strange and have secrets, and when a blizzard ensues, trapping them in the house with no means of communication, they are plunged into a situation of not-so-harmonious togetherness.

Enter the mysterious brooding foreigner and possible conman Mr Paravicini (Karl Howman), who is forced to seek shelter when his car conks out in the blizzard, and you have a motley and entertaining crew residing for the night under the same roof.

Playing Paravicini has a special resonance for actor Karl, 59, as his mother went to see the play in its first year in 1953, while she was six months pregnant with him. Married to Clare, he is the well-known star of the Flash ads, and achieved fame in the BBC sitcom Brush Strokes and series Mulberry. He also wrote the film, Fathers of Girls. Both of his daughters are in the business, Chloe is a regular on Casualty, and Katy-Jo a singer and dancer, who met her own husband when both were performing in Cats.

"I don't act as much these days, as I direct and write a lot more, but this touring production is a special thing and I agreed to come back to do it," says the grandfather of five when I meet him afterwards. "The Mousetrap is nostalgic, and the fact that it is set in an era where there was no social networking or Wikipedia and all the rest of it adds to the mystery. It was much easier to be a conman back then, as nobody had any way of telling who you actually were. There is something quite innocent about it all, which I think people find appealing."

The drama rachets up several notches when Detective Sergeant Trotter (Bob Saul) arrives at the snowbound hotel on skis, to inform Giles and Mollie that the London murderer is still at large and is believed to be on his way to Monkswell Manor. Shortly afterwards, the moaning Mrs Boyle is found dead, and the residents realise that the killer is among them.

Suspicion falls on each person in turn, and the residents re-enact the circumstances of the second murder at the behest of Sergeant Trotter to try to ascertain what happened and to set a trap for the murderer. Thus ensues a most enjoyable and intriguing romp as each guest and even the hosts becomes a suspect. While there is a huge comic element to the play, there are also dark undertones as the events are driven by an awful event that had occurred some years earlier, and elements of revenge and retribution are at play.

The play is extremely well acted, full of intricate suspense, with lots of comic moments, making it obvious as to how it's stood the test of time. And as to who-actually-dunnit, pop along to The Bord Gais Energy Theatre later this month, where all will be revealed.

The Mousetrap runs at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre from Monday, June 24 to Saturday, June 29. Tickets priced from €20 are available from Ticketmaster on 0818 719 377 or www.ticketmaster.ie

Irish Independent

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