The Mousetrap - Milton Keynes Theatre (
goodness the producers had the gumption to take The Mousetrap on tour in spite
of fears that its status as a West End destination might be diluted – this production
is a joy from beginning to end.

far too long a portion of its 67 years (and counting) on stage it has simply
been a comfy wet afternoon excursion for transient Americans and coach parties
of uncomprehending Japanese tourists. Agatha Christie’s sharp little murder
mystery has long deserved a more appreciative audience.

been no updating of the play since its debut in 1952, and in spite of
Christie’s instruction that the play is set in ‘the present’ we’re presented
with a dessicated tableau of an England in which Winston Churchill is Prime
Minister, there’s rationing, national service and a suspicion of foreigners.
Come to think of it, this sounds too much like a Brexiter’s wish list, but
let’s press on.
it means in dramatic terms is that it would have been so easy to produce this
play as a knowing send-up the mores of the age and, to be sure, there are
enough opportunities to slice the ham thickly enough to get sponsored by
Plumrose, but  Gareth Armstrong and his
first-class cast of eight play it absolutely straight, cleverly bringing out
the tension, which consequently refreshes the humour in the piece.
Novice guest house owners Giles and Mollie Ralston are about
to open their doors to paying guests at Monkswell Manor for the first time. A
raging blizzard and news of a murderer on the loose does nothing to calm their
nerves. Their guests arrive one by one as the house becomes snowbound.
First to
arrive is the camp and neurotic Christopher Wren, a young architect with a
taste for the macabre. Next up are Mrs Boyle, a hyper-critical ex-magistrate
with an over-inflated sense of entitlement, and Major Metcalf,  an outwardly amiable old military buffer. More
striking is the arrival of Miss Casewell, an mannish (as they said in the
Fifties) young woman who has returned to Blighty for Enigmatic And Opaque
Reasons. To round off this clique of Cluedo characters, Mr Paravicini, one of
Christie’s obligatory funny foreigners, knocks on the door after his Roller
overturns in a snowdrift.
Five guests. Everything to hide. Nowhere to go. Enter the
dogged Det Sgt Trotter, hot on the heels of the murderer and with a chilling
warning to the unhappy campers – one of you will be next. Gulp.
The cast, as stated previously, are first-rate, with honours
going to Lewis Chandler as Christopher Wren, who wrings
the comedy from his every line, and the magnificent David Alcock who plays Paravicini
like a portly knock-off Bela Lugosi, all velvets and silk and whose accent appears
to start in Bucharest, stops for a weekend break in Naples before ending up a
little south of Pontypridd.

Nick Biadon and Harriett
Hare are an engaging Giles and Mollie Ralston. There’s a
genuine chemistry between the pair that enhances their slick and often
exasperated exchanges. Hare, with her English rose pluck and cut-glass vowels
puts one in mind of the performances that made Margaret Lockwood famous. No,
you’re thinking of Margaret Rutherford. Just look it up.   

Penhaligon is marvellously bitter and demanding as Mrs Boyle; Saskia
Vaigncourt-Stratten is as sharp as a stiletto as Miss Casewell while Geoff
Arnold as Trotter applies the psychological screws with aplomb.

are some lovely touches: as we hear on the radio about the murderer’s dark,
overcoat, light scarf and soft felt hat, guess what every character is wearing
when they enter? And with a beautifully rendered set faithful to its West End roots, inventive
lighting really cranks up the oppressive atmosphere.

At the end of a mightily entertaining evening one feels proud to
be inducted by the cast into the confederacy of those who will never let on who
the murderer is.