By Jessica Taurins
Across the world, there is no show – stage or otherwise – that has run for longer than Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. This show approaches 30,000 performances and has just reached its 70th anniversary, coming far across the world from its typical West End boards. Still, regardless of its age, The Mousetrap is still a fun and fantastical jaunt through a snowstorm and a few bouts of violence in Monkswell Manor, a beautiful and traditional English boarding house.
The premise of the show is simple. Four strangers – with some surprise guests to follow – arrive at a boarding house on its snowy opening night, ready to be hosted by the new owners, the Ralstons. The audience knows, as do the characters, that a murder has occurred near London, an older lady killed by a mysterious man in a dark coat, light scarf, and a soft cloth cap. Each character arrives in exactly the same outfit – a coat, a scarf, a fashionable hat – which immediately has the audience chuckling as they see the similarities to the outfit of the killer.
The show plays out the first night and the following day with few time skips, allowing the characters and their habits and tells to sink in for the audience. Each character and their player are distinct in near-stereotypical ways, which allows them to easily become suspects of the crime. Mollie (Anna O’Byrne) and Giles (Alex Rathgeber) Ralston are a sweet young couple, newly wed, but keeping secrets from one another that could lead to a dangerous end for them both. Christopher Wren (Laurence Boxhall) is an architect with a love for all things childlike, though he harbours a strange neurotic nature that unsettles those around him. In contrast, Miss Casewell (Charlotte Friels) is a young woman with a dark past that makes her seem older, dressing in a masculine style that makes everyone equally as discomfited.
Mrs Boyle (Geraldine Turner) and Major Metcalf (Adam Murphy) are the older characters and are played appropriately sternly as the retired magistrate and army major. They brook no nonsense and bring great experience to their roles. Finally there is Mr Paravicini (Gerry Connolly), an Italian (German? Belgian?) with a ridiculous accent, who shows up unannounced out of the storm, and Detective Sergeant Trotter (Tom Conroy), a policeman who arrives to stop another intended murder from occurring at the Manor.
Each performer brings life and warmth to roles that could certainly have stagnated throughout the ages. Young Boxhall and Friels are standout performers, taking roles that were almost certainly written to be ridiculed at the time – a maniac child-man and a woman with masculine tendencies – and giving them realism and life above that of the dialogue. Boxhall is sympathetic as he tries to wrestle with Wren’s juvenile tendencies, and Friels is stunning as Miss Casewell, who floats across the stage attempting to belong when she is so wrought with trauma from her past life.
For the story itself, Christie must, of course, be lauded. The Mousetrap is more than just a classic whodunnit, with repeated revelations that draw the audience to the very edge of their seats. In addition to the drama, Christie has spread humour all throughout her show as a pleasant contrast to the unexpected reveals and intense, exciting character moments. Having seen only this rendition, it’s hard to know what moments are artistic flair and what were written in the stage directions, but each joke and flourish felt fresh and clean, presented well against what could have been a very drab backdrop of a traditional murder mystery.
Even though I tried my very best to sift through the red herrings and solve the mystery on my own, it was all but impossible to predict some of the show’s outcomes. I picked that one character was not as they seemed before their veil was lifted, but in all other cases I fell short, inventing backstory that didn’t come to pass. Luckily, all audience members are sworn to secrecy at the end of the show, so as to not reveal the surprises and turns to anyone who hasn’t come across the story before.
While it’s hard to keep my mouth shut, preserving the excitement for future viewers is of utmost importance, so with that I will say – this Australian performance of The Mousetrap is an enthralling rendition of a much-beloved Agatha Christie story, and is well worth the watch. Take a friend or a group of friends and try to pick the murderer before their reveal – even if you don’t, the joy in finding it out will ensure a fun night for all.
Images: Brian Geach