The MousetrapPhotos – James Morgan

Taking over (quite ironically) from Ngapartji Ngapartji on the Playhouse stage, Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is a tightly-directed period piece as formulaic as it is popular. Come this November, it will have been playing on the West End for 60 years, and already boasts in excess of 24,000 performances.

 
This quintessential murder mystery funnels a number of Europeans into one room, kills one of them off, and eventually reveals who done it. The complications to Christie’s basic formula in this instance include a couple setting up shop as a guest house; a range of guests, each with their own oddities; a blizzard cutting them off from the outside world; and a potentially intriguing story about a tragedy from almost two decades earlier that took place on a farm neighbouring the guest house. These additions constitute one of Christie’s better contributions to the murder mystery genre, and make The Mousetrap a memorable play.

 
In this production, a talented cast delivers admirably on Christie’s characteristically verbose script. Christy Sullivan, in the role of Mollie Ralston, holds the play together, and Travis Cotton’s Christopher Wren breathes a little life into the production, but on the whole the performances seem altogether too mechanical, lacking a depth of character and failing to engage with the audience. The exception is when the magnificent Robert Alexander comes to life as Mr Paravicini. The moment he’s in action, the whole stage lights up, however briefly, and suddenly there is life. Christie, unfortunately, wasn’t kind enough to provide any real depth to the character of Paravicini, so it is largely in vain. This production doesn’t recover from heavy-handed direction and performances are mechanical and unspirited even in those characters that Christie took beyond caricature.

 
The set doesn’t help either. True to a post-war British sitting room, its wood panelling, heavy furniture and enormous window give no life to the action, and they’re further deadened by the addition of a false, plain black proscenium arch that artificially detaches the Playhouse’s wonderful auditorium from its stage.

 
Mechanical, wordy and far too serious for its own good, the play sits heavily on the stage like some kind of theatrical hearse, its fourth wall most vigorously reinforced so as to render the audience practically irrelevant. My sense is that this play would go on, even if the auditorium were entirely devoid of any audience whatever.

 
This really is museum theatre. Finely tuned museum theatre, granted, but nonetheless musty, stale and fit only for students of early twentieth century British theatre; a very sad cohort of theatre students indeed. The precision of its performances, and their altogether too routine execution, left no space for pathos, no empathy, and no engagement with character at all, and this left the plot drab and the intrigue of the murder mystery quite absent. Indeed, the highlight of the performance seemed to be when Justin Smith, in the role of Sergeant Trotter, dropped a line during the reveal. The prospect of a little improvisation gave me some hope, but this was soon dashed when he recovered altogether too quickly and returned to rather more mechanical delivery of Christie’s verbiage.

 
Producers the world over know the heartache of working with the staid and unimaginative owners of Agatha Christie’s copyright. It seems they’re determined to kill what are otherwise redeemable plays from a very dull era in British theatre. This production suggests they might be succeeding in that endeavour.


The Mousetrap
by Agatha Christie

2012 Australian Tour

Sydney
Sydney Theatre at Walsh Bay from June 30

Canberra
Canberra Theatre Centre, The Playhouse from August 1

Perth
His Majesty's Theatre from August 14

Melbourne
Comedy Theatre from August 30

Adelaide
Dunstan Playhouse from October 9

Visit: www.themousetrap.com.au


Produced in Australia by Michael Coppel, Louise Withers, Linda Bewick in association with Adrian Barnes by arrangement with Mousetrap Productions Ltd London
 

Most read reviews

Driftwood The Musical | Umbrella Productions

Driftwood the Musical is a moving, enthralling story of a family surviving the ravages of war. It so timely, that it’s both poetical and painful.

Blackheath Chamber Music Festival 2022

This year's line-up, a cross section of some of the finest chamber ensembles in the country, would have graced any of Australia’s more well established festivals, and it is a massive endorsement of Festival Director Catherine Harker’s entrepreneurial skill that she was able to secure these wonderful musicians for a festival that too few people have yet heard of.

The Girl from the North Country

Set in Duluth Minnesota in 1934, The Girl from the North Country is a snapshot of troubled people enduring troubled times, gripped as they are by the Great Depression.

Cathedral | State Theatre Company of SA

It's a brave actor that takes on a single hander. The challenge of remembering lines, and holding audience's attention alone on stage for an hour and a half is a gargantuan one. But the actor is not alone.

Pieces of Shit | Bronte Charlotte and Leigh Scully

Charlotte and Scully delivered a thoughtful, funny, and moving new play that balanced toilet humour with hard-hitting, timely content.

Most read news

& Juliet, to premiere at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre in 2023

The greatest remixed love story ever told and West End award-winning anthemic pop musical, & JULIET, will make its Australian premiere at the Regent Theatre from February 2023 in a new production exclusive to Melbourne.

Entries for $10,000 Playwright’s Award Close Soon

In November 2021, Newcastle’s premier theatre production house, The Very Popular Theatre Company, launch its inaugural $10,000 playwright’s award, which is open to applicants across Australia.