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The Mousetrap (tour - Canterbury, Marlowe Theatre)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Celebrating its 60th year, this tour is the first time Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap has played in the UK outside London. Set in an England long since vanished, and with a secret twist that audiences have kept to themselves for more than half a century, it's not hard to see why this play about disparate hotel guests caught up in a real-life murder mystery, has endured.

The play is performed gently, but is entirely gripping. While the actual performance has a slow and steady pace, the story itself whizzes along. Seeing it for the first time, it feels strangely familiar – as if watching episodes of Miss Marple and Poirot for all these years has infused us with Mousetrap DNA. We are predisposed to enjoy it no matter where it is performed or who it stars.

In fact, The Mousetrap is almost actor-proof. Like a perfectly-preserved chaise longue once used by Marie Antoinette but with Celebrity Big Brother contestants now sitting on it, we are able look past the less-than-ideal additions and still enjoy the original masterpiece.

Not that acting causes much of a problem in this production, as the majority of the cast are very good. Given the prestige of this 60th anniversary tour, it's only right that a strong cast was chosen. The domineering Mrs Boyle is played by stage and screen veteran Jan Waters, who directs a perfect combination of disapproval and comic bafflement at her fellow guests.

For the uninitiated, it's still surprising to see just how much humour there is in The Mousetrap. For all the perception of her as a stuffy sort of Lady Bracknell character, Christie had a keen eye, ear and pen for comedy, and there is plenty of it in this play; much of it generated by Steven France as Christopher Wren.

Coming up in second place in the laughter-stakes is Karl Howman (yes, Jacko from Brush Strokes) as Mr Paravicini. The character is Italian, but even though Howman's accent travels from Paris to Peckham and back again, he is enjoyable to watch and has a strong stage presence. And he's not the only one.

Playing Miss Casewell as an almost-androgynous person, Clare Wilkie gives her character more depth than some other actresses who have play the mysterious young woman as aggressive and one-dimensional.

Of course, we then we have the ending – the famous twist that each night the players ask the audience to keep to themselves. I'm not going to even attempt to be clever and hint at who the killer is. It's marvellous that since 1952, theatregoers have had a verbal contract with the play's performers that they will not give away the ending – and eternal shame light on you if you seek it out!

Sure, it's dated, it's old-fashioned, some of the dialogue is daft and the exposition is brutal at times, but The Mousetrap is still a play that every theatregoer should see at some point. Sooner rather than later too, for then you can relax and happily have conversations and read articles about The Mousetrap without being terrified that some idiot is going to spoil everything and inadvertently blurt out that the killer is …


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