Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Plot twist to die for in play masterclass

PERHAPS this reviewer hasn’t spent enough time exploring the Agatha Christie canon. Up until The Mousetrap

PERHAPS this reviewer hasn’t spent enough time exploring the Agatha Christie canon. Up until The Mousetrap I thought her work was shallow, two dimensional and predictable. Now I’m not so sure.

The Mousetrap is a play which knows what it’s about, it’s had 63 years to get it right and has broken countless records for longevity, box office and cast appearances.

So it should be as fit as an Olympic athlete on its national tour, and it is. It’s the classic whodunnit set in the now familiar big house with mostly posh people.

But there’s a subtlety in this play which may not come out in some of the dame’s other work. It has three-dimensions for a start, the characters are well drawn and have genuine motivations. And their situations seem to be quite a long way ahead of their time.

Plot summary, then: Mollie and Giles Ralston are opening their old mansion as a boarding house for the first time. They welcome their guests one by one. Meanwhile in London there’s been a murder.

Most of the people in the house have a motive for that murder and possibly more; in comes a detective sergeant to sort it out — and he has to do it while there’s a blizzard and the phone’s cut off. These have become familiar devices in whodunnits but we have to remember that the Mousetrap was the first.

To be honest this reviewer spotted the culprit fairly early on, I turned to my companions and said: “He’s a wrong’un.” This was because I, like many others, have seen the same device a lot of times since and even used it in a play of my own three years ago.

But it wasn’t so familiar in the middle of the last century and many have borrowed from the dame since then.

The narrative goes on to address child abuse and even appears to make an appeal for tolerance of homosexuality — it opened in 1952 when homosexuality was still regarded as unnatural and a crime.

Edward Elgood gives a convincing portrayal of a persecuted man more at home in the kitchen and flamboyant clothes than what would have been seen as more manly pursuits. It’s very similar to Tom Hulse’s excitable Mozart in Amadeus.

Luke Jenkins as Sgt Trotter holds the stage throughout. It is he who orchestrates the action and he never lets the pace slacken, even when things might seem predictable in the second half.

As it turns out they’re not and there’s a delicious twist at the end which I, like you and all others, must never reveal.

I saw a funny quote about Agatha Christie a couple of weeks ago in AA Gill’s TV review: “It’s not so much writing as typing with clues,” I thought at the time that I would borrow it but I use it now only to say that I think it’s wrong.

The Mousetrap is real writing and real playmaking and it’s no accident that it’s lasted so long.

Performances continue until Saturday.

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