Theatre

The play is the thing

Who did it: Stills from The Mousetrap.

Who did it: Stills from The Mousetrap.   | Photo Credit: Andreas Lambis

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The Mousetrap is a treat for Agatha Christie fans, says Mini Anthikad Chhibber

There was a full house at the Sunday matinee at St Johns Auditorium in Bengaluru for The Mousetrap, the murder mystery written by the queen of crime, Agatha Christie. The curtains went up to reveal Mollie Ralston (Helen Clapp) doing last-minute adjustments to the living room at the newly opened Monkswell Manor.

The Mousetrap started off as Three Blind Mice, a radio play that Christie wrote for Queen Mary’s 80th birthday. The half-hour play was broadcast at 8 p.m. on May 30, 1947.

The play was converted into a short story, which was published in the US in Cosmopolitan in May 1948 and in an anthology in 1950 as Three Blind Mice and Other Stories.

Play on words

Christie developed the story into a theatrical production with the addition of the character of Miss Casewell. The play was renamed The Mousetrap because there was another play in the West End before World War II called Three Blind Mice. ‘Mousetrap’ as all Shakespeare fans would know was what Hamlet tells Claudius is the name of the play-within-the-play. It was actually called Murder of Gonzago but Hamlet was playing with words as usual — as he eloquently says “the play is the thing/ wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.” The name was suggested by Christie’s son-in-law, Anthony Hicks

Based on a true story of a child dying of extreme abuse (nothing cosy about that), The Mousetrap premiered in October, 1952 and has been running since, breaking several records along the way. Incidentally, Richard Attenborough played Detective Sergeant Trotter in the original, while his wife Sheila Sim played Mollie.

Set in the living room of a guesthouse, Monkswell Manor, in the “present” which has been taken to be the time the play opened, 1952, The Mousetrap is a classic whodunit with a closed circle of suspects. A young couple, Mollie and Giles (Tom Rooke) are trying their hand at running a guest house.

Just before their guests, Christopher Wren (Rhys Warrington), Mrs Boyle (Sarah Whitlock), Major Metcalf (Graham Seed) and Miss Casewell (Millie Turner) arrive, comes the news on the radio of the murder of a woman named Maureen Lyon. There are two unexpected arrivals — Mr Paravicini (Jason Hall), whose car overturns in a snowdrift and Sergeant Trotter (Jamie Hutchins) who arrives on skis to give crucial information. The raging snowstorm ensures no one can leave or come in. One among those in Monkswell Manor is a murderer seeking revenge. Christie readers will recognise the types from the burra sahib Major Metcalf and the scary Mrs Boyle who reminds one of the sadistic Mrs Boynton in Christie’s Appointment With Death to the mysterious stranger, Paravicini, the stolid policeman, Trotter and the odd, young man, Wren.

Effortlessly engaging

The play moved like a well-oiled machine and despite the single set filled with heavy Victorian furniture, the stage was used intelligently to suggest dynamism and space. Despite knowing who the killer was — from the short story or by applying the little grey cells, The Mousetrap was engaging for its acting and writing — effortlessly moving from light-hearted in the first half to sombre in the second.

The original production from London’s West End, with Deryck Guyler’s voice as the newsreader on the radio and the only surviving prop from the original, the clock on the mantelpiece with the hands frozen at 4.45, The Mousetrap is a treat for Christie fans and all those who love a good thriller. Hush! is that ‘Three Blind Mice’ we hear playing on the piano?

The Mousetrap is ongoing at Balgandharva Rang Mandir, Bandra till November 24; more details on bookmyshow

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2019 1:26:06 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/the-play-is-the-thing/article30053364.ece

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