The Mousetrap, Charter Theatre, Preston
Until May 30
So, I went to see The Mousetrap this week – the touring version of course – and spent an hour or two prior to the performance feeling quite excited.
Well, it’s a British institution, isn’t it; well-loved, watched by millions during its 62 years on the stage and a ‘must-see’ production for anyone who loves the theatre. And… it was written by Agatha Christie, mistress of the whodunit genre for decades.
It must be good. Right?
Let’s look at what is good about it. The set: lovely, with the kind of comfortable seating that makes you wish you were snuggled up with a book on the stage rather than in the audience. The costumes: perfect for the 1950s’ setting – I particularly liked Mrs Ralston’s grey dress. Lighting: fabulous in conveying the warmth and welcome of a guest house lounge on a wintry afternoon. The actors: faultless, as far as I could see. The plot: oh dear, this is where the whole experience comes unstuck.
Christie might have been the doyenne of the whodunit during her lifetime, and nobody would argue with the popularity of her books over the years, but we have moved on, murder mysteries have moved on; The Mousetrap needs to move on.
One criticism often levelled at the characters in Christie’s books is that they are two-dimensional. The Mousetrap serves up similarly disappointing individuals, but in this case it is their stereotypes that really grate.
So there is the slightly camp, completely nutty Christopher Wren, whose inane laugh leaves you hoping he is the first one to succumb to the murderer.
And Mrs Boyle, whose dissatisfaction with everything tempts you to commit murder yourself, if only you could reach the stage.
And Mr Paravicini, with his flamboyant Italian accent and wild gestures, who seems to have been wheeled in from another play and never quite fits into the plot.
So, why has The Mousetrap remained so popular? Well, according to Ms Christie: “It is the sort of play you can take anyone to. It is not really frightening. It is not really horrible. It is not really a farce, but it has a little bit of all these things and perhaps that satisfies a lot of different people.”