Agatha Christie fans enjoy her crime books and stage adaptations because they get the chance to become Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple searching for clues and offering hypotheses.
Unfortunately this touring production of The Unexpected Guest, which plays at The Lowry in Manchester until 28 April before heading to Aberdeen, features a murderer so sign-posted and obvious you need not bother.
This old war horse opens with a deafening gunshot, causing the audience on the night I attended to giggle excitedly ready to be thrilled and frightened. From here on, however, the play takes a stilted and somewhat laughable approach as the thinly-veiled mystery unfolds.
Murder suspect number one is Laura Warwick Tracey Childs who we first discover with a gun in-hand and her husband dead in a wheelchair. Enter the unexpected guest with a plan, cue the usual suspects with their alibis, and bring on the naive bumbling detectives ready to interrogate.
The acting is perhaps best likened to Acorn Antiques and Childs would make a great Miss Babs – she stares longingly into the distance like a wooden ornament. Dean Gaffney plays Jan Warwick, a 19 year old suspect with learning difficulties, drifting in and out of character and changing his accent frequently.
Kate Best as housekeeper Miss Bennett looks as though she has wandered in from Manderlay, overacting to such an extent I half-expected canned laughter.
Jack Ellis on the other hand brings realism, wit and a contemporary feel to this dated piece, attempting to float the play when it begins to sink in its own stupidity.
Simon Scullion’s sparse set feels cheap and half finished - even the blinds don’t open – and director Joe Harmston seems to have instructed his actors to move across the stage like Thunderbird puppets.
The success of The Mousetrap, which has run in the West End for 55 years, is proof that there is a huge audience for an old-fashioned whodunit. But this production covers the conceit in cobwebs and will disappoint even the most die-hard Christie fan.