The Mouse Trap. The Longest-Running play in the English-Speaking World Gets an Attractive Production

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Categories: Community Theatre

Photo: Maria Vartanova

The most fascinating aspect of the world’s longest-running play is its amazing longevity. Now in its 62nd year in London’s West End, The Mousetrap has become as much part of the “must-see” list of attractions for tourists as the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace.

It is generally agreed that Agatha Christie’s murder mystery, while carefully constructed with clever twists and the occasional red herring, creaks a little after all this time. Characters tend to be stereotypes and the script often seems wordy and built around a formula. Thus, the starting point for The Mousetrap is to have a small group of strangers, one of them the murderer, trapped — in this case, in a guesthouse in a snowstorm.

Christie’s springboard for the script (originally entitled Three Blind Mice) was a horrific 1945 case of child abuse in Shropshire. (Three Blind Mice began as a one-act play written at the request of King George V’s consort, Queen Mary, later became a short story and, by 1951, was converted into a full-length whodunit.)

Following an off-stage murder in the dark, the main events occur in the living room of Monkswell Manor, a guesthouse run by newly weds, Mollie and Giles Ralston. Their first guests include a retired military man, a former magistrate, a young man who claims to be an architect in training, a somewhat secretive single woman and a mysterious foreigner, whose car overturned in the snow. They are joined by Detective Sergeant Trotter, who battles the weather on skis, to investigate why the Monkswell Manor address was found at the site of the original murder. Part of the formula is that everyone has something to hide or regret and no one is exactly who he or she seems.

The tradition (now destroyed by revelations via the Internet) is never to reveal the murderer to any who have not seen the show. (This is likely to be a diminishing number as it has been running in the U.K. and elsewhere since 1952.)

A key point of the Mousetrap plot is that stormy weather and the severing of the telephone lines have isolated the group in the guesthouse. Therefore, in the age of instant electronic communication, the show can retain its credibility only as a period piece. In the Ottawa Little Theatre production, director Nicole Milne is, for the most part, careful to stay true to the 1950s. However, in an apparent effort at inclusiveness, she directs and costumes Miss Casewell (Michelle Paré) to appear manly rather than the more usual style of casting as an “old maid” and presents Christopher Wren (Phillip Merriman) as overtly gay rather than as a little mannered. This is a problem because, in the early 1950s, homosexuality was illegal in Great Britain and it is unlikely that such a depiction would have seen the light of day at the time.

In terms of characterization, cast members are clear in their portrayals, both as types and as individuals. Sharron McGuirl is tough and tweedy as the magistrate. Patrick Cullen has quiet authority as the Major and Paré and Merriman are consistent in their presentations. Venetia Lawless as Mollie Ralston and Michael McSheffrey as her husband, Giles, depict a believable warm relationship and handle the more mundane aspects of their roles effectively.

Robert Mudenge, as the foreigner, Mr. Paravinci (usually portrayed as an Italian) is amusing but often more concerned with drawing laughs from the audience than in being an integral part of the ensemble. He also employs some irritating repetitive hand gestures and unclear enunciation sometimes makes him difficult to understand.

In the central role, Aidan Dewhirst is forceful as DS Trotter and effective in controlling the manor residents.

The production is enhanced by an attractive, workable set by Paul Gardner and appropriate costumes by Glynis Ellens, as well by David Magladry’s lighting and Melinda Roy’s sound.

The Mousetrap continues at Ottawa little Theatre to November 8.

Director: Nicole Milne

Set: Paul Gardner

Lighting: David Magladry

Sound: Melinda Roy

Costumes: Glynis Ellens

Cast:

Mollie Ralston………………………………….Venetia Lawless

Giles Ralston……………………………………Michael McSheffrey

Christopher Wren………………………………..Phillip Merriman

Mrs. Boyle……………………………………….Sharron McGuirl

Major Metcalf……………………………………Patrick Cullen

Miss Casewell……………………………………Michelle Paré

Mr. Paravinci…………………………………….Robert Mudenge

Detective Sergeant Trotter……


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