We know! The Mousetrap!
Why? Because it’s there. Because it was about time. Because Phil and an awful lot of other people had never actually seen it despite being in its 58th year (As is Phil. Or thereabouts. Who’s counting?).
And because a group offer unexpectedly became available (see footnote 1). The Whingers proposed a group outing and the take-up was astronomic. So 18 celestial people (including apparently respectable theatre commentators such as him and him and her and her and a consumptive her) met up in a sunny Seven Dials to tuck into Andrew’s celebratory mousetrap (actually a bag of Mini-Babybels for practical reasons) before traipsing round the corner for the show’s 23,972nd performance. Yes, more cheese, creaky cheese, from the the Queen of Crime, the High Priestess of the Whodunit, Agatha Christie.
Phil had always wanted to see The Mousetrap but was put off years ago when the normally intelligent Stephen Fry rather mean-spiritedly revealed the identify of the killer on TV. How idiotic, seethed Phil. The man pusillanimously couldn’t finish his own theatrical run but that’s no reason to try and finish off other people’s. Very bad form. Needless to say, the Whingers aren’t wasting an opportunity to take the moral high ground and you won’t find a spoiler on this page (Can you read the sniff in our voices?).
Plus it was an chance for Phil to tick the St Martin’s Theatre off his list, it being the only West End theatre whose insides he had never seen (mainly because it has housed The Mousetrap for the last 36 years).
Indeed it is strange to think that despite hosting a record-breaking production, this is probably the West End theatre which is least visited by London theatregoers. So it’s nice to be able to report that it is actually rather wonderful: beautiful wooden mahogany (we’re guessing) balustrades (see footnote 2) and one of the most delightful safety curtains we have seen for a long time.
Anyway The Mousetrap employs the classic device (which probably wasn’t quite as big a cliché in 1952): a group of people get stranded by a snowstorm in a large county house with a killer on the loose. And of course the telephone line has been cut. And, as someone says, “I do so hope they sent that coke along as we’re getting rather low”.
Mollie (Sasha Waddell) and Giles Ralston (Mark Hayden) have just opened a guest house in Monkswell Manor, remotely situated in Berkshire (this is 1952, remember). It is their stressful first day open for business (they really will need that coke) and the motley selection of guests (all either “difficult or odd”) arrive one by one so we can be introduced to the pleasingly stereotypical suspects.
Christopher Wren (Gary Tushaw) is a rather strange, hyperactive young aesthete (“I adore chiffoniers”) with a penchant for pullovers and a habit of singing nursery rhymes. Mrs Boyle (a rather splendid Jan Waters) is a curmudgeonly old battleaxe bound to find fault in everything.
Lastly there is Johnny Foreigner, Mr Paravicini (Michael Roberts), who sports a very odd accent and even stranger make-up.
Each guest is of indeterminate build and makes his or her entrance wearing a black coat, a light scarf and a felt hat – the exact description of the homicidal maniac who is on the loose.
That’s a term you don’t hear very often these days, isn’t it? “Homicidal maniac”. Is everyone now just a plain “murderer” so as not to offend the ones with mental problems? Even more confusingly for today’s young people the radio is referred to as the wireless (Quite rightly too. This is what it is stubbornly called in the Whingers’ households). And how about this for a trip down memory lane: “the Evening Standard is sold on the streets of London at about 3.30pm”.
Anyway, each guest’s coat and hat are taken off-stage to be hung up before the next guest enters wearing what looks very much like the same coat and hat. Is this a cunning way of keeping costs down? Could this this be the secret of The Mousetrap‘s longevity?
Each arrives with a sprinkling of what looks like cotton wool but as the snow reaches depths of five feet it looks as though our stranded heroes are in quite some peril. Thank heavens for the arrival on skis (!) of the intrepid Det. Sgt. Trotter (Ben Goddard – Joe Gillis in the 2008 Sunset Boulevard).
It was sometimes hard to tell which lines were meant to be funny then and which are laugh out loud hilarious now due to the passage of time. But presumably in 1952 the line about coke didn’t get the belly laughs with which the Whingers’ entourage greeted it. But possibly “No, he went across country to look for chicken wire” went down as well then as it does now.
How to rate The Mousetrap? Of course it is a well matured cheese, but would we have it any other way? It was more an event than a trip to the theatre. You know what to expect, and to criticise it would be like going on the London Eye and complaining because you don’t like heights or visiting the Tower of London and moaning that you find history boring or going to Madame Tussauds and being surprised to find that it’s crap.
But go in the right frame of mind with a like-minded group of people (think of it thus: The Mousetrap is to theatregoers as Dirty Dancing is to hen nights) and you could well have a night to remember.
Another good reason for going is the gratitude of the cast. This is the only occasion the Whingers can recall of the actors queueing up outside the stage door to congratulate the audience. “You were a wonderful audience,” they gushed. Apparently our laughter was rather refreshing (“It’s like being in Noises Off”, one actor apparently remarked to his colleagues during the interval).
Oh, and there are some enjoyably bad production photos in the programme. Wonderful.
So two Ratings:
Rating A: The Play
Rating B: The Whole Experience
- The St Martin’s Theatre is going to have to change its signage (right). Here‘s yet another discount.
- According to English Heritage the interior is a “2-tier auditorium, in Classical style, of polished hardwood. Turned balusters to balcony fronts. Side walls of auditorium have large Doric engaged columns and pilasters on pedestals supporting bold entablature which continues over the rectangular proscenium arch. Glazed domed ceiling.” We would call it a three tier auditorium, but there you go.
- According to Wikipedia, the radio announcer’s voice is that of Derek Guyler who “holds a unique place in theatrical history, having “acted” in every performance of The Mousetrap since the opening night on 6 October 1952 in Nottingham. He delivered a news bulletin via a recording which is still being used at the St Martin’s Theatre at present.”
- Pub quiz question: What is the only part of the original 1952 The Mousetrap set and props that still features in the production? A: The clock on the mantelpiece.
- Excitingly, one in our party – The Audience Club‘s Angela Hyde Courtney – played Miss Casewell in a Canadian production.