New Theatre, Cardiff, Tue 1 Oct
Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is the West End’s longest-running show, and it’s not difficult to grasp the secret to its longevity. The plot is classic Christie: five strangers turn up at a recently opened guest house run by young newlyweds the Ralstons. With winter bearing down, the uneasy gathering is snowed in, and it soon transpires that a murderer could be among them.
After some clunky exposition right at the start, the script clicks into gear once the story-setting is out of the way, with dialogue that fizzes with humour. Christie on the page is darker and more sinister, but here the story belongs firmly in the ‘cosy crime’ genre, like a Midsomer Murders or Vera. The levity can be a little jarring at times – this is murder, after all – but generally the humour lends a charming undercurrent.
It’s no criticism to say that The Mousetrap is undemanding; it’s actually the joy of it. This is mellow Sunday-night drama transported to the stage: all tailored costumes, clipped mannerisms and a good old whodunit. In-keeping with this atmosphere, easy-viewing TV stalwart Susan Penhaligon gives a standout performance as the cantankerous Mrs Boyle.
While the characters are largely archetypes, Christie is too skilled a writer to allow them to remain one-dimensional, and the cast do a fine job of adding layers to them. A special mention goes to Lewis Chandler, who imbues the superficial-seeming Christopher Wren with a depth he would otherwise lack.
The set – unchanged since the show opened in 1952 – is as much a star of the show as the cast. A sumptuous oak-panelled drawing room, complete with glowing open fire and snow falling outside a stained-glass window: it’s irresistible.
Hardened crime fans will see the twist coming a mile off, but the whole experience is so entertaining, it hardly matters. And anyway: this is gateway-drug Christie, sanitised for the crime-averse. Aficionados of her more intricate works may miss the deductive powers of the iconoclastic Poirot, but overall, watching The Mousetrap feels like hunkering down by a roaring fire with a smoky glass of Islay whisky: a perfect show for settling into the colder months.
words Alice Hughes
The Mousetrap is at the New Theatre until Sat 5 Oct. Tickets: from £13.50. Info: www.newtheatrecardiff.co.uk