The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie is one of the longest running plays. It is based on a short story (published only in the short stories collection “Three Blind Mice”), which was inspired by the real-life case of the death of a boy, Dennis O’Neill who died in 1945, while in the foster care of a Shropshire farmer and his wife.
Like all Christie’s work, The Mousetrap has her signature all over it: unexpected twist and turns, a surprising choice of murderer and a full pallet of very realistic characters. The play is a typical ‘who done it’ mystery. It is set in the early 1950s, in the isolated Monkswell Manor run by the young, recently married couple Giles and Molly Ralston. The play takes place on a winter day with heavy snowfall, so that the isolation of the house is highlighted. At the time of the murder in the manor, all five guests have already arrived and settled quite comfortably, as well as a detective who came to investigate a murder committed the previous night in London. When one of the guests is killed, the detective starts interrogating the rest of the people. Anyone can be the guilty party and it is obvious that everybody is trying to hide something from the past.
There is a reoccurring sentence in Agatha Christie’s stories – the leitmotif which helps explain her work. As her popular character, Miss Marple often says, there is a lot of human nature in everyone. So really, although she is a mystery writer – her writing revolves around people; it is mostly character studies. In adaptation of her work to a different media (including theatre), there are two important things to remember: stick to the original time and place, and be sure to develop the characters well.
As usual, Ottawa Little Theatre produced a perfect set. Paul Gardner (set design) and David Magladry (lighting design), combined with Glynis Ellens’ character-revealing costume design transports us directly to the scene of the crime: an isolated guesthouse in England at the beginning of the 50s. The illusion of a snow covered backyard through the window was magical, the interior of the living room impeccable, and the atmosphere warm and cosy.
The characters, on the other hand, missed the mark. The connection among them lacked in sincerity, and the characters were unconvincing and sometimes unnecessarily exaggerated. The actors focused mostly on reproducing the British accent, so that they ended up sounding unnatural. The only exception was Phillip Merriman in the role of Christopher Wren, a hyperactive young man with peculiar manners. His movement, body language and facial expressions matched the character of an energetic, but extremely insecure young man.
This play depends heavily on an atmosphere of macabre humour, which should be brought to life through the vividness and uniqueness of the characters, as well as on their interaction. As the members of the cast did not succeed in creating that, the entire show felt flat.
Mousetrap plays in Ottawa Little Theatre from October 21 – November 8, 2014
Mollie Ralston – VenetiaLawless
Giles Ralston – Michael McSheffrey
Christopher Wren – Phillip Merriman
Mrs Boyle – Sharron McGuirl
Major Metcalf – Patric Cullen
Miss Casewell –
Mr Paravicini – Robert Mudenge
Detective Sergeant Trotter – Aidan Dewhirst
Director: Nicole Milne
Set design Paul Gardner
Lighting design: David Magladry
Costume design: Glynis Ellens’