THERE’S an old joke about a keen mum who takes her son to see his first Shakespeare play. As they’re leaving she asks, “Well, what did you think?” He snaps back, “It was all right mum, but full of clichés.”
That’s worth bearing in mind when seeing The Mousetrap, by Agatha Christie. It’s safe to say that much of what we know about the murder mystery – especially the locked house subgenre – was invented by Christie. Her books have sold bazillions, her Poirot and Marple endlessly rehashed for TV and the cinema, and this play is itself in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest continuously running show ever mounted, having debuted in November 1952. So if it feels familiar, that’s to be expected – and reveled in.
The Mousetrap is as soothing as a warm bath and as delicious as a bag of popcorn. It is full of lovely jokes proving that Christie must have been a jolly soul, not above poking fun at her craft and winking ostentatiously at the audience. She could teach Julian Fellowes a thing or two about working exposition into dialogue with grace and delicacy. There are enough exits and entrances to make me wish she’d written a full-on farce. And while most of us know whodunit, no one’s telling. That diminishes the already limited sense of foreboding but opens up a new sort of enjoyment, watching for tell-tale clues along the way.
Among the troupe giving us their Mousetrap at the King’s are many veterans of London productions and the quality is uniformly good throughout. Helen Clapp’s Mollie Ralston was superb and as her husband, Henry Luxemburg was uncannily like Geoffrey Palmer, which is no bad thing. He has a weird tic of over-emphasising random words, but that was only mildly distracting. Stephen Yeo’s Christopher Wren is one big Tigger bounce, a Hooray Henry writ large, whose capering becomes endearing.
The ratings warning on this would read: Scenes of mildest peril and danger of smiling too hard.
n Run ends tomorrow