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 The Theatreguide.London Review



The Mousetrap
St Martin's Theatre 1952-

Agatha Christie didn't invent the English country house mystery, in which the murderer is Someone In This Room, but she perfected it in her early novels by masterfully playing with the conventions of the genre so that the murderer was always the last person you'd guess.

And so it is with The Mousetrap . A modest little whodunit of the sort that appeared every season, The Mousetrap opened in November 1952 and ran and ran. And ran.

Somewhere around the tenth year it began to be a hit because it was a hit, as the attraction became "that long-running play" as much as its own merits. Now it's over 60 years old, and as obligatory a stop for the London tourist as the Changing of the Guard. So it hardly matters what I say about it, does it?

A motley group of people are snowbound in a country hotel when murder strikes. Whodunit -- the mysterious foreign gentleman? the strange young man? the retired major? our too-normal-looking host and hostess?

At the end of every performance there's a curtain speech begging you not to tell your friends, so I won't cheat. I'll just assure you that, when you and your friends try to guess during the interval, you will all be wrong. And so it is almost certain that you'll enjoy The Mousetrap, because it will fool you.

That said, I should note that Christie did the same basic plot much better in other novels and plays, that the story takes forever to get going, that the characters really are a bit too cartoonish to be taken seriously, and that there are gaping holes in the plot that you'll only realise afterwards. I'll also have you notice that, unless the direction has changed since the last time I saw it, people keep coming indoors from knee-deep snow with perfectly dry clothes and shoes.

I should warn you that you won't see any great acting. Though the original cast, back in 1952, featured Richard Attenborough (more recently director of Gandhi and star of Jurassic Park ), by now each new cast is made up of journeyman actors happy for a year's work, and the producers won't allow too much individuality to rock the boat.

Chances are that, once the delight of not having guessed wears off, The Mousetrap will fade in your memory. And do not, under any circumstances, return to see it a second time, because all you'll be aware of are the flaws.

But you're going to go. So go. You'll like it.

Gerald Berkowitz


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Review - The Mousetrap