Sunday 1 September 2019

The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie

The Mousetrap is a victim of its own success. It's such a staggeringly popular play — the longest running in history — that it is easy to take it for granted.

In fact, it is such an enduring part of our cultural furniture that it's in danger of becoming completely invisible.

I first saw it, many years ago, in the same way I might have visited the Tower of London. Reluctantly dragged along to this tourist must-see, 

I actually found it very entertaining and I didn't come close to guessing who the killer was.

(And you can relax, I have no intention of giving that away here.)

But it is only recently that I've come to truly appreciate the really quality of this stage classic, when I read the play for the first time. 
I was immediately struck by the perfect moody, snowbound setting. We are in Monkswell Manor, a rather dingy guesthouse which has been cut off by a blizzard, where the isolated collection of diverse characters are about to become targets for a killer. 

The guest house is run by Mollie and Giles Ralston and the play begins, wittily, with Mollie picking up her husband's coat, scarf and hat while the radio describes the manhunt for a murderer wearing exactly these items.

There are also playful and self-referential scene directions, with one character described as  "a slightly taller edition of Hercule Poirot."

And great dialogue: "Terrible weather isn't it, takes one back to Dickens and Scrooge and that irritating Tiny Tim."

That's from the waspish and rather camp Christopher, who also remarks "I adore nursery rhymes, don't you? Always so tragic and macabre."

And, when a cop called Trotter turns up on skis, he quips "I do admire the police. So stern and hardboiled."

Agatha Christie is adroit at establishing character through dialogue. "All trains should have been met," snaps Mrs Boyle, "a large imposing woman in a very bad temper" who has had to make her own way from the station.

And there is a further, terrific revelation of character when Mrs Boyle says, "One tries to do a public duty and all one gets is abuse." 

This remark refers to the fact that she was a magistrate responsible for sending three young children to a terrible fate.

Which brings us to the most striking thing about The Mousetrap. The murders that take place here aren't arbitrary, for plot convenience.

They are potently motivated by this horrific episode of child abuse in the backstory, giving the whole play a dark power which drives it forward, and which no amount of comic relief can entirely disguise.

Disturbingly, this incident was based on a true story which I'll write about in another post.

But for now, suffice to say that The Mousetrap is one of Agatha Christie's 24-carat masterpieces, and it deserves its enduring and enormous success.

Time I went to see it again...

(Image credits: The main image of three mice pointing inwards is from Ann Arbor District Library. "Directed by Angela Wright" is from Kickstarter. The Ambassadors Theatre programme is from Arthur LLoyd. The fingerprint mouse is from Birminghmam 365. The mouse and the house is from Columbia County Current.  37th Year is from V&A. The Pardoe Theatre is from the excellent designer Nick Mendoza. The black white and red one is from Curtain Players. New Zealand Players is from Reed Gallery. The Chinese poster is from Pinterest.)

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