South Africa

Theatre Review

Play falls into the trap of plodding along

Play falls into the trap of plodding along
Photo: Christiaan Kotze

The Mousetrap picks up the pace in the second half when the detective work begins, but it never sparkles quite the way it should.

The great thing about having a bad memory is that you can see a play for a second time and still not know how it ends.

Or in the case of The Mousetrap, not quite recall who dunnit.

This famous murder-mystery by Agatha Christie has been running in London for 68 years solid, making it the longest running show in West End history. That track record alone is probably enough of a draw to make it a show worth seeing.

It last played here in 2012, long enough for me to have forgotten the ending, but recently enough to instil a niggling sense of déjà vu. What I do remember, unfortunately, is that the previous production moved with a lot more ooomph and pizazz than this rather pedestrian version.

Theoretically, it’s much the same show as we saw in Joburg seven years ago and as audiences have been lapping up in London for six decades. A lovely stage set recreates an English country manor, with high arched doorways and windows, snowflakes fluttering behind the glass, well stuffed settees, ineffective heating and an old fashioned radio, all conjuring up Britain in the 1950s. We’re in Monkswell Manor, which the owners Giles and Mollie Ralston (Mark Sykes and Melissa Haiden) have optimistically turned into a guesthouse.

Christiaan Kotze

The first few minutes are spent setting the scene as the guests begin to filter in, with this production making each of them a caricature as much as a character: the flamboyant young gay guy Christopher Wren (Matthew Lotter), and the perpetual complainer Mrs Boyle (Michele Maxwell), an old bag with nary a good word to say about anything. There’s Malcolm Terrey laying it on thickly as Major Metcalf the terribly-terribly army man; and Shannyn Fourie as Ms Casewell, a woman with a penchant for dressing in chic men’s clothes.

Then the ageing Italian lothario Paravicini (Mark Wynter) crashes in, and just after all the guests realise they’re snowed in, Policeman Trotter (Aiden Scott) swoops in on his skis with the chilling news that there’s a murderer in their midst. What fun!

As the characters interact, each reveals something from their past that makes them a potential suspect when Mrs Boyle is found strangled in the sitting room. Red herrings abound as the audience tries to figure out the motive and the murderer.

This production has been directed by Jonathan Tafler, who played Paravicini in the West End. But it moves along at a lumpen pace, with the actors feeling more like individual islands rather than a swiftly flowing whole. All of them give solid performances in the style required, but I wasn’t keen on the slant that turns the characters into such stark stereotypes. The show picks up the pace in the second half when the detective work begins, but it never sparkles quite the way it should.

It kept reminding me of the recent hilarious farce The Play That Goes Wrong, where an Agatha Christie-style murder-mystery goes deliciously wonky in the hands of an amateur dramatic society. Except The Mousetrap is serious, save for a few moments of humour in the script that were welcome adjuncts to the evening.

Perhaps the crew will gel together as the run goes on, but on opening night there was a lack of warmth on the stage that had nothing to do with the snowy setting. DM

 The Mousetrap runs at Montecasino until March 3. Tickets from Computicket 011-511-1818



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