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Review of Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

After over a month away from the theatre I was keen to get back to my seat in the stalls for the new season at Royal & Derngate. Also what better than the sixty plus year running The Mousetrap by crime superstar Agatha Christie (I am a fan)? This was surely the most perfect way to begin this new run towards the winter months? Alas it was not.

March this year on this blog, I very dared write a rather critical review (for me) of Jesus Christ Superstar. At the time I was wary of writing it, as I was just a relative newcomer to this theatre lark and felt that perhaps it wasn't quite my place to be too critical. I wrote it anyway and little me got whacked on Twitter by a group involved in that production (details here) and by that process they created a monster. I settled on the fact that now I had every right as a paying audience member to call a spade a spade. Fortunately until The Mousetrap, I hadn't needed to be very critical.

The Mousetrap is indeed typical Agatha Christie material. It has all the standard hallmarks; a small group of oddball characters with hidden pasts, a murder (before the play begins), a police sergeant and a classic setting. The setting in question is a country guest house which for the purposes of the story becomes cut-off following a severe snow storm. Each of our cast of characters arrives separately, cleverly dressed to incriminate themselves.

We have the owners Giles (Alex Wadham) and Mollie (Esther McAuley), along with guests Christopher Wren (Edward Elgood), Mrs Boyle (Anne Kavanagh), Major Metcalf (William Illkey), Miss Casewell (Hester Arden) and Mr Paravicini (Jonathan Sidgwick). Finally we have Sgt Trotter (Luke Jenkins) completing the characters.

They are for me a sweeping contrast of performances. The strongest for me was understudy Wadham (on for Mark Homer) who maintains a careful balance of character in a slightly scary environment of outlandish personalities. Also excellent value is Kavanagh, she is never short of highly entertaining as the snobbish and constantly offended Mrs Boyle. Her character is truly quite repulsive and cruel, but Kavenagh still manages to make her likable. The brief scene with Giles over whether she should stay or go is one of the best moments of the play for me and played perfectly. Illkey is a highly dependable Major cutting the authority figure well, while Arden is fantastically subtle in her role as the mannish and highly secretive Miss Casewell.

After this the performances become a little more uneven. Both Elgood and Sidgwick while both suitably ridiculous in their roles, become tiresome quite quickly. For the first ten minutes Elgood is perfectly fine, but whether it be a fault of the script itself or the performance, I found it all just too annoying to be comfortable with. Sidgwick's Paravicini is even more annoying and overplayed. However these do offer the strange appeal of almost wanting to see the play again under a different cast/director,

Jenkins for me also fails to impress as the sergeant, very much a key role after his arrival but never coming across as the authority figure required. There feels a lack of power and dominance in the performance. I also had a lack of interest in McAuley's Mollie, a strange performance which in the high emotional scenes just doesn't work. Mollie does however feel like a odd character in any case, so I think as much blame lies with the piece as the performance.

The style of the production also never seems sure of itself. The script doesn't appear to offer vast humour, just through its over the top characters. However much of the time this production leans so much towards making it a totally over the top experience through character, that I just wished I was watching The Murder At Havensham Manor and could toss away any pretence of hard hitting drama.

The set is perfect for the story and the very simple sound design from Richard Carter provides everything you could want for the tale unfolding. Also super subtle but extremely effective is the lighting from Peter Vaughan Clarke. The passing of time via the lighting is one of the best I have so far seen.

The story and script itself is as expected very dated in its style and fits very little in the modern style. However this is where much of the enjoyment from a Christie tale comes and that is why I still enjoy them. The Mousetrap however for me though feels a substandard Christie and I am frankly amazed that it has survived over sixty years in this cutthroat business. It must surely live on its reputation and most certainly its simple, subtle and pure Britishness appeal to the foreign tourist in London.

So would I recommend The Mousetrap? Well absolutely I would, it is a play that any regular theatre goer should see once. If not just to be enveloped into the secret squad of the murderers realm at the end of the play. Would I recommended you see The Mousetrap in this version though? I am afraid that I wouldn't. I am sure that the London version must surely be of better quality, and at times during the production, I even felt that I might have seen better in an amateur production.

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Performance reviewed: Monday 7th September, 2015 at the Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton.

The Mousetrap runs at the Royal & Derngate until Saturday 12th September, 2015 before continuing its tour.

For further details about the Royal & Derngate visit their website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk

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