Last week I went to see Gregory Cox, occasional Chalk theatre tutor, in the 25,282 performance of The Mousetrap at St. Martin’s Theatre. Like many Londoners, I had rather taken this remarkable, long-running play for granted leaving it to American and Japanese tourists. I assumed I knew what it would be like and yes it was set in the drawing room of an English country house and its cast of characters did include a retired major, someone called Giles and a comedy foreigner (Gregory’s Mr. Paravicini) but it was much more than a game of Cluedo.
The play was tightly constructed and inveigled the audience into suspecting each character in turn without allowing us to guess who actually did it. It was textured with mood shifts from high comedy to pathos. It was witty as well as funny-haha, surprising and even a little scary when the lights went out and the sinister Three Blind Mice theme echoed though the theatre. It was also, for all its period feel and quaint details, rather modern.
Written originally as a radio play in 1947, the setting is the grim post-war era with all its uncertainties and social disruption. Agatha Christie based the play on a real case of criminal child neglect and this dark theme permeates the work. She has a light touch when it comes to the young married couple’s relationship and a sophisticated nonchalance about the sexual ambivalence of camp Christopher Wren and the dykey Miss Casewell. Secrets, child abuse, psychological trauma are all common themes in Christie’s work and make it unsettlingly current despite the tweed skirts and talk of servants.
Of course Gregory Cox stole the show for me with his sinister yet drole Paravicini; his startlingly athletic leaps on and off the sofa were impressive though, as he gave us champagne afterwards in his dressing room, I would say that, wouldn’t I? Equally impressed was a Nike-clad American teen who I overheard in the foyer saying to his mate, “Awesome, dude! The one who did it wasn’t even on my list.” They were very young, very street-cred but totally engaged by a fifty-something play. I’m so glad I saw this National Treasure and I shall uphold the sacred tradition and refrain from telling you who did it. Go and see for yourself.