Scene It: The Mouestrap, the eternal theatre mystery

December 29, 2018

Having entertained audiences for the past 65 years, Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is the world’s longest running theatre production, having become a permanent fixture in the West End. No one can say with certainty why The Mousetrap has turned into such a theatre phenomenon, but that it has is an unquestionable fact. This current staging of The Mousetrap at Theatre on the Bay is then also the third time Pieter Toerien Productions has brought this Christie-mystery to Cape Town’s shores.

 

As The Mousetrap is a murder mystery, one can’t say too much about the plot lest you give away its well-guarded secret. (No, don't Google it, you want to be surprise, trust me!) As the Act descriptions teasingly suggest, it’s much of the same and then someone dies. What can be said is that a group of weary travellers —all apparently hiding a secret— find themselves the first visitors to Monkswell Manor, run by Giles Ralston (Mark Sykes) and his wife Mollie (Melissa Haiden).

There's no real bells and whistles to this play: it's about people, how they interact with one another, and more so what they want everyone else to see as opposed to who they truly are. For me personally, it's also appealing in its traditional style, because it's like watching a game of Cluedo onstage, with the twists and turns and constant conspiracies running through your head as the whodunit unfolds.

 

The set (design by Nadine Minnaar) immediately conveys the right atmosphere and lends itself well to this traditional murder mystery. The stylish costume design (by Marcel Meyer) further adds Christie period flair to elevate the character personas, giving them a unique identity before they even speak. 

 

With the play calling for Mr Ralston’s character to become more and more preoccupied and evasive, the interaction between Sykes and Haiden don’t necessarily allow for them to explore the newly wed aspect of their characters in great depth. Very fittingly though, their tautness become an almost tangible element as the drama unfolds.

Haiden’s performance is heightened when her character, Mollie, interacts with young architect, Christopher Wren, as played by Matthew Lotter. The flamboyant energy Lotter lends to his character clearly speaks to Haiden’s Mollie in a most entertaining fashion. Seeing Haiden and Lotter play off one another’s onstage energy is a treat.

 

The pace of the play does feel a bit slow until the steadfast Detective Sergeant Trotter (impressively portrayed by Aidan Scott) steps onto the stage. As a murder mystery would be nothing without a sleuth, it’s very fitting that upon the introduction of Trotter the other character-interactions start revolving around him. This development then also calls on the rest of the cast to step in time with Scott’s quick and catchy delivery as Trotter. 

The eminent Michele Maxwell accentuates the ball-buster persona of her Mrs Boyle, while giving the audience (as opposed to Mrs Boyle’s companions) a glimpse into her character’s fears. This balance between intimating and timid greatly adds to the required tension build-up of The Mousetrap.

 

Adding to this tension is the presence of the sauve Miss Casewell (very expressively portrayed by Shannyn Fourie) and the aloof Major Metcalf (played by Malcolm Terrey). Terrey, being no stranger to The Mousetrap's intrigue elements (having played Mr Paravicini in its 2002 SA premiere), gives Major Metcalf just enough presence to aid in his character's onstage purpose.

Much has been made of the addition of London-based singer and actor Mark Wynter joining this The Mousetrap SA cast. Not knowing what to expect of Wynter's style of performance —here too I found it best to avoid asking Google before a proper first-hand audience experience— and having seen The Mousetrap twice before, I spent some time contemplating his approach during the opening night viewing.

 

With Wynter's character of Mr Paravicini being a man of unknown provenance, but as the name would suggest possibly Italian, accent can be a powerful interpretative tool in this character's portrayal. At first Wynter’s accent left this reviewer slightly perplexed. As I’m no accent expert, initially his presumed Italian landed strangely on my ear with what appeared to be a slight East German influence. This intriguing accent then migrated to include what I can only describe as a hint of Russian. This all gives Wynter's appropriately over-the-top and overly make-upped Paravicini a Putinesque type feel —a take I find weirdly fascinating and I suspect works for me seeing as Mr Paravicini is a possibly cruel, egotistical individual too.

The intrigue of this Jonathan Tafler directed play is enough to entertain audiences this festive season with a taste of traditional theatre true to the style of the much revered The Mousetrap.

 

The production runs until 19 January 2019 at Theatre on the Bay, with tickets available through Computicket

 

 

 

 

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