Theatre reviewer TIM WALKER sees an old favourite returning to the stage after lockdown
St Martin’s Theatre, London
There was a lot of talk of a new kind of theatre emerging after the lockdowns – edgier, more relevant and representative – but maybe, after a traumatic experience, there’s something to be said for reassurance. The Mousetrap is a bit like an old pair of bedroom slippers, a nice cup of tea or spotted dick with custard.
It’s been almost 70 years and getting on for 30,000 performances since Agatha Christie’s play first opened, and, while it’s seldom occurred to a great many Londoners to go and see it, we like the fact that it’s there. As with so many of the capital’s greatest attractions, it’s appreciated more by tourists than by us. Only twice has it been stopped going on in its long history – a power cut for one night only, and then, for more than a year, it was Covid who did for this whodunnit.
I last saw it when it was celebrating its 50th birthday and there was a big party afterwards where the guest of honour was Lord Attenborough, who played Detective Sergeant Trotter in the original production, and I recall him confiding in me that he never thought it would play for more than a few months. Dame Agatha herself only gave it eight months, tops.
Still, it’s got something special, has this play. It’s hard to define, but maybe it is simply charm. Ian Talbot, its director, and Denise Silvey, its artistic director, clearly care passionately about it. Monkswell Manor, the creepy old house where six motley guests check in after a grisly murder, is beautifully recreated. To provide for all eventualities, Talbot and Silvey have invested it with two starry casts who play on alternate weeks – Susan Penhaligon, David Rintoul and Derek Griffiths topping the bills.
A lot of great actors – not least, of course, Attenborough – have been helped along in their careers by The Mousetrap. The night I saw it I believe I saw a star being born: Joshua Griffin, who only graduated from acting school last year, delivered a tour-de-force as the strange Christopher Wren and managed to inject some genuine pathos into the proceedings when he talked about losing his mother.
In a strong ensemble, Nicholas Bailey was also on fine form as Monkswell Manor’s owner, and I liked the way, too, that Paul Bradley kept it all grounded as an affable old major. Tony Timberlake conjured up some of the spirit of the old Universal horror films as the mysterious Mr Paravicini.
Tickets are currently on sale to July 4 with social distancing. There’s just the mildest hint of exasperation on the show’s website when it states that, after then, there’s a possibility of capacity audiences again, but of course they have to “await further government guidance”.
Theatreland is gradually returning, but a dithering government isn’t making it any easier. Hamilton is hoping to be back in August and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella is due to start previews soon. There’s also Back to the Future planning to get off the starting line in August.
There will undoubtedly be more challenging theatre to come at venues such as the Riverside when theatre hopefully gets into its stride in the autumn, but, for now, if you’ve not seen The Mousetrap before, or you just want to catch up with an old friend, I urge you to go and see it. It is a lot of fun, and, more than that, I’d say it’s something of a patriotic act to buy tickets.
Two of the original cast members are, by the way, still there: Deryck Guyler, posthumously playing the radio announcer in the first scene, and the clock that ticks on the mantelpiece. Especially pleasing to see them both back after they were so rudely interrupted.