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REVIEW: The Mousetrap at Sunderland Empire

The Mousetrap
Sunderland Empire
Thursday 28th February – Saturday 2nd March 2019

Tickets for The Mousetrap are available in person at the Box Office on High Street or online from ATG Tickets* #Ad

Agatha Christie’s classic record breaking whodunnit arrives in Sunderland this week. Complete with its period charm, the show have been packing the audiences in for its West-end run of over 27500 performances over the last 67 years. Even the Queen has seen it and been asked not to give away the secret.

Set in the early 50s when rationing was still around the story centres around Mollie Ralston (Harriett Hare) who has inherited a large property which is about an hours drive from London. She decides to open the property as the “Monkswell Manor Guest House” with the support of her husband Giles (Nick Biadon). The Mousetrap starts with heavy snows outside and the couple are expecting their first guests. As they make their final preparations the big news story on the radio is the murder of a woman in  Paddington. The police issue a fairly generic description of the man that they need to question.

As they arrive, the guests make a quick first impression on the audience. Christopher Wren (Lewis Chandler) is a lively young architect who likes a joke. His behaviour is in stark contrast to the irascible Mrs Boyle (Gwyneth Strong, who is best known for playing Only Fools And Horses regular Cassandra) who does not suffer fools and is clearly irritated by the inexperience of her hosts. It is a good job Trip Advisor wasn’t around at the time. Mrs Boyle arrived in the same taxi as the Major Metcalf (resident director John Griffiths) who takes the situation in his stride.

Seemingly out of place in the 1950s scene is Miss Casewell (Saskia Vaigncourt-Strallen) who is dressed initially in fairly a masculine outfit - which, like the other male guests, also matches the police description  of the person they want to question - and she wishes to keep herself to herself. Unexpectedly the door bell rings again and Mr Paravicini (David Alcock) asks if a room is available as his car has got stuck in the snow. Whilst little is known about him, no more is known about any of the guests who pre-booked their rooms either.

So, the classic Agatha Christie scenario is set up. A group of strangers stuck in a snow bound hotel for the evening with a murderer on the loose. Thank goodness the phone rings and the police are sending Sergeant Trotter (Geoff Arnold) around on his skis to ensure everyone is safe. The ensemble cast do a fine job in portraying a fairly eccentric bunch of people who have little in common whilst they wait for the snow to clear.

The set is a single central room at the front of the Manor House. Numerous doors and exits enable the cast to flow in and out of the action. Unlike some whodunits, director Gareth Armstrong ensures that there is a good flow in the narrative. But just like an episode of Scooby Doo, part of the challenge for the audience at the interval is trying to work out if the killer is in the house and who it is.

The lighting design from Peter Vaughan Clarke enables the crunch moments to be picked out – or hidden – as appropriate. The sound design by Richard Carter includes some well timed radio broadcasts. A nice touch was the snow falling outside making it feel cold inside the Empire Theatre.

Regular readers will know I like the murder mystery format and I am a fan of Agatha’s work. The Mousetrap is successful as it is a fine example of the whodunit. It may feel quaint, a reflection of a bygone age, but setting a play in a time before mobile phones helps to build up the tension. I couldn’t imagine a modern day reboot having the same charm.

The Mousetrap is an entertaining frolic. Seeing it for a second time I can say that the clues are there…I missed them all the first time around!

Photos: Johann Persson 
Review: Stephen Oliver

Tickets for The Mousetrap are available in person at the Box Office on High Street or online from ATG Tickets* #Ad

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