The Mousetrap review – St Martin’s Theatre

Wedunnit!

We’re finally allowed back into the theatre in England for the first time this year.  Yes, we’re still in masks and sitting in bubbles. But what a good feeling it is to be in the Royal Circle watching a real live play unfolding on stage.

It seems so right that it’s The Mousetrap that’s leading the charge in London’s West End.

Agatha Christie’s whodunnit may be the longest running play on the planet but tonight’s performance – after so long in lockdown – had the excitement of a world premiere. A smattering of celebrities, including Alexander Armstrong, Michael Ball and Jamie Theakston, turned up to lend their support. 

Before curtain up, producer Adam Spiegel took to the stage with a few words for the socially distanced audience.

“There is something historic about this evening,” he said. “We are world leaders of theatre. We punch above our weight.  What’s historic about this evening is that our industry starts to punch again.”

This production, directed by Ian Talbot, has two casts – so even if you DO know who the murderer is (and I didn’t) there’s the added twist of which actors you’re going to see (you can check on the website if you really want to know in advance).

On opening night (17 May) the cast included familiar names such as Derek Griffiths, Cassidy Janson, Danny Mac, Susan Penhaligon and David Rintoul.

Christie’s thriller may be old school but Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the wee donkey it’s every bit as twisty as an episode of Line of Duty. The action takes place in 1950s England at snowbound Monkswell Manor, a guest house run by Mollie Ralston (Janson, excellent as ever) and husband Giles (Mac).

One by one, an odd selection of guests turns up out of the blizzard, each dressed – by bizarre coincidence – in garments that match the description of a wanted murderer. 

Penhaligon’s tweed-skirted Mrs Boyle is marvelously cantankerous, while Rintoul is memorably mysterious as the flamboyant Mr Paravicini.

I hugely enjoyed Alexander Wolfe’s energetic oddball young architect Christopher Wren.

And Paul Hilliar’s policeman DS Trotter, who turns up on skis, is every bit as thorough as anyone from AC-12.

To say much more would be giving too much away, except to say that Act Two expertly explores some interesting ideas around how much you really know about the people closest to you. 

The Mousetrap is back!

With its eerie atmosphere and occasional jump scares it’s not hard to see why The Mousetrap has endured for almost 70 years.

Amidst all this cautious optimism, we shouldn’t forget how badly the theatre industry has been hit by the pandemic.  This time a year ago the only way to experience theatre was to stream it.  

As live theatre like tonight’s show returns, it  will be a vital source of escapism as we emerge from lockdown. 

This is one trap I don’t mind getting caught in.

The Mousetrap is back at St Martin’s Theatre, London, from 17 May.

Towards Zero review – The Mill at Sonning

4 star review

Brian Blessed’s Agatha Christie productions have been an annual fixture at The Mill at Sonning since 2016, when I was lucky enough to interview him about his debut as a theatre director with The Hollow. “It’s a virginal experience!” he boomed at me back then across the Mill’s intimate auditorium.

This latest whodunnit Towards Zero, co-written with Gerald Verner, completes what Blessed calls his “quartet of Agatha Christie plays”. Visitors to his previous productions will recognise some returning cast members, including his wife Hildegard Neil and daughter Rosalind Blessed, as well as George Telfer, here playing Superintendent Battle.

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Hildegard Neil and Rob Heanley in Towards Zero (photo: Andreas Lambis)

The story takes place in the drawing room of wealthy Lady Tressilian’s clifftop home in Cornwall where an annual gathering includes Thomas Royde (Patrick Myles), back from Malaya and carrying a set of golf clubs (wonder what they might be used for?), family solicitor Matthew Treves (Noel White) and Lady T’s former ward Nevile Strange (Rob Heanley), who has turned up – rather awkwardly – with both his new wife Kay (Bethan Nash) and his ex Audrey (Kate Tydman).

Unsurprisingly, the atmosphere in the house is rather strained. Kay kicks things off by angrily ripping up a photo of Audrey. With talk of a large inheritance hanging in the air, it can only be a matter of time before someone gets murdered with a nine iron.

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Kay Strange (Bethan Nash) with her friend Ted Latimer (Duncan Wilkins) Photo by Andreas Lambis

While Brian Blessed himself doesn’t appear on stage, his distinctive voice opens the play reading the shipping forcecast on the wireless.

Neil’s Lady Tressilian is a joy, especially the way she delivers lines like: “Her mother was notorious all over the Riviera.” I also loved the simmering tension between Nash’s tempestuous Kay, and Tydman’s glacial Audrey.

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Matthew Treves (Noel White) and Superintendent Battle (George Telfer) in Towards Zero (photo: Andreas Lambis)

Although they don’t appear until later, Telfer’s Superintendent Battle and Chris Pybus’s Inspector Leach make a likeable crime-busting duo.

There are, of course, twists galore. The excellent cast, combined with Dinah England’s splendid period set, make this a thoroughly entertaining two hours.

No zeroes here, but a solid four stars.

Towards Zero is at The Mill at Sonning until 28 September