Plano — What’s not to like about Agatha Christie’s venerable whodunit, The Mousetrap? Very little, judging by audience laughter and applause at Theatre Britain’s crisp and detailed production of the world-famous detective drama directed with precise ensemble balance and sure-fire suspense by Sue Birch. It’s great fun, made even keener with a cup of good hot coffee and a package of tasty Walker’s shortbread cookies, available in the lobby.
Now in its 62nd year on the stage in London’s West End, The Mousetrap is the longest running play in the world, now generating its own historical momentum, right up there with the Changing of the Guard and London Tower as a tourist attraction and theatrical curiosity. Actually, the play still works because it’s a well-constructed murder mystery, and the eight characters, while verging on stereotype, are distinctly and elegantly defined.
On opening weekend last Saturday, a heavy rain was washing over the North Texas prairie and folks clambered into the lobby of the Plano theater with umbrellas and raincoats in hand to get a seat—a perfect pre-show storm for the play to come. The houselights go down, the stage lights go up and we’re transported to the Great Hall at Monkswell Manor where a young couple is nervously readying the place for their first guests in the old house they’ve converted to an inn.
A snowstorm is in progress, and each arrival is eager to warm up at the fireplace before Mollie Ralston (a pertly pretty Jennifer Stoneking) and her husband Giles (a stoic, stand-offish Bryan Brooks) can get them to their rooms. All the while, the radio is broadcasting reports of a manhunt for the murderer of a London woman. The suspect is “a person of medium height, wearing a dark trench coat, a felt hat and a light scarf.” Hmm.
If you can’t sort out the suspect, you’ll certainly recognize this inn full of characters from British mysteries, drawing room farce and popular board games. Their familiarity is at least part of their instant appeal. The grouchy old Mrs. Boyle (a glaring and gravelly-voiced Judith Johnson), the retired army major (a portly, old-boyish Francis Henry), the brisk and decidedly masculine Miss Casewell (a handsome, no-nonsense Kara Leimer), the fey and frantic young architect hopefully named Christopher Wren (a drolly hilarious Jeff Wittekiend), the distinguished older gentleman, Mr Paravicini (a handsome and archly knowing Jackie L. Kemp), and the take-charge Detective Sergeant Trotter (a forceful, fiery-eyed Michael Speck).
Of course, they’re all stranded in the increasingly horrendous blizzard, and by the time the determined detective gets through grilling each guest, they all suspect each other. Then, right on cue, the lights go off, a muffled moan rises above two shuffling figures, and when the lights come on, a dead body sprawls before the fireplace and Mollie lets out a blood-curdling scream.
The second act is a clever unraveling of plot and nerves, made entertaining by carefully realized and realistic performances all round. Nobody camps it up, and each character has private secrets that will out – along with the murderer. We feel everyone's increasing fear in this spooky lock-down of a mansion where nobody is safe, emotionally or physically.
Darryl P. Clement’s Monkswell Manor is convincingly fitted out with period antiques, mahogany-colored paneling, red velvet curtains, a marble staircase, four heavy ornate doors plus a walk-through French window, the better to facilitate timely entrances and exits of this busy bunch of guests. Shanna Gobin’s costumes are marvelously tweedy and detailed, right down to the major’s sweater vest and Miss Casewell’s tightly tailored three-button jacket and three-quarters pleated skirt. Exactly.
Let it rain or snow. The Mousetrap is one show that will surely go on. Pop on over to Theatre Britain and enjoy this engaging and entertaining incarnation.