I've liked Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap for many years now. In my last great UK adventure I made sure I took time out to see the longest running play in the world, soon after bought the script book and recently started lobbying my local theatre company to put on an amateur production of it while the rights were available in Australia (not that anything came of that, but that's another story). So now that this famous production has finally come to Melbourne, how could I resist going along to see it and compare it to what I saw long ago in St Martin's Lane in London?
I should really know better to compare a West End production with a local one, as the Australian edition never quite holds up against its UK originals. This is especially true in the case of The Mousetrap - the production in London has been running for very nearly sixty years now in which time they've had ample opportunity to fine tune anything to make it a special production. Besides, being an English production it has a innate Englishness about it - the cast are all British, the direction has a British sensibility, it all fits in with a very British script. Here in Australia, however, I couldn't shake the feeling that the company were trying too hard to make it as British as possible. Everybody spoke with a "oh, I say, rather, what-ho!" tone, which had the unfortunate effect of bringing the play into the realms of melodrama. Let's face it, the play walks that fine line as it is - a ghastly winter night, an old manor house, eight people trapped within and one of whom will be a murderer... But in London the performers made it feel natural. Their anguish was real, their struggles felt like a normal struggle, which made me care. This Australian production took all the parts, wrung out any subtleties and made them all caricatures. Which, I suppose, is a perfectly valid way of portraying The Mousetrap, but not one I found to be as effective. It didn't help that they seemed to think they were doing a twenties period drama (rather than a fifties one as it was written). Agatha Christie done in the style of Noel Coward, as it were.
That's not to say I didn't enjoy the production I saw this afternoon - there was much to appreciate. Travis Cotton as Christopher Wren stole the show for me, and I found myself waiting eagerly for the times when he'd return to the stage for some more odd and slightly insane antics. Justin Smith playing Detective-Sergeant Trotter also gets special note, for carrying the bulk of the show excellently and managing to be one of the few who didn't tip over that melodramatic line (sadly its hard to discuss details of any of the cast without revealing key parts of of the plot, which we've been all sworn not to reveal). The rest of the cast were great in their own way, but I found it hard to take them seriously (and occasionally found the more pantomime acting actively annoying). Moving away from the acting, I loved some of the lighting choices made - especially at the climax (again, no details for fear of spoilers). The use of darkness to bring out the fear factor was just right. And I loved the fact it snowed outside the window! A little detail, but one that helped bring the magnificently lush set to life.
In a production at a venue called the Comedy Theatre, perhaps I should have expected this play to to ramp up the comedy to eleven, but I don't think The Mousetrap really needed it. Agatha Christie's murder mystery play has legs of its own - otherwise it wouldn't have lasted in the West End this long - but it could have been much more effective if it wasn't portrayed as a melodrama. But still, go down and see it if you can before it closes, the material speaks for itself. See if you can guess whodunnit before the final curtain!
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