The Mousetrap is a “delightful little murder mystery” on the Toronto stage
The Mousetrap is almost more famous as a phenomenon than it is as a play: the original London production of this Agatha Christie murder mystery is still running, 60 years after it opened in 1952. Straight out of Christie’s own golden age, fans of the genre will get exactly what they paid for — but even those who aren’t predisposed towards detective fiction will find a lot to like about this tense and lively production.
The story is a classic snowglobe mystery: eight archetypes gather at a country hotel and find themselves trapped by heavy snow. A murder is committed, and a second seems inevitable — unless they can solve the mystery and unmask the killer before he, or she, strikes again.
The country hotel itself is decorated lavishly: designers Michael Galloro (set) and Robyn MacDonald (costumes) are clearly working within a tight budget (try not to look too closely at the wood paneling), but the plush leather furniture, gorgeous period costumes and elaborate peacock fireplace screen all speak to resourcefulness.
Gathered ’round the fire, you’ll find all of your favourite mystery stereotypes: Damien Gulde’s belt-and-braces army major; Lauren Saunders’ pant-suited, mannish virago; David John Phillips’ dubious foreigner, origin and purpose unknown; Helly Chester’s profoundly disagreeable spinster; David Rowan’s rather queer young man (the word “queer” meaning something quite different in the 1950s); and William Doyle and Andrea Creighton as newlyweds and hoteliers, undergoing the worst opening weekend in the industry’s history.
As the local police detective (Hugh Ritchie) interrogates, intimidates and badgers these suspects, Christie’s writing comes to the fore: each character is carefully drawn, plausible as the killer, and gets a proper turn in the spotlight. I was especially taken by Phillips’ sinister continental, who only becomes more dangerous as he slips nearer to the background.
But the heavy lifting (suitcases aside) is mostly down to Creighton, Ritchie and Rowan. Ritchie’s investigation carries much of the second act, while pivotal scenes between Rowan and Creighton drive the plot forward and cast doubt upon easy solutions. These moments sometimes get a little campy, but never spoil the mood or effect — and a little camp leavens what could otherwise be a black-as-coal evening.
And the mood is the most difficult thing to a mystery, but aided by her able cast, director Seanna Kennedy makes it look easy: the tension constantly ratchets, and even moments of out-and-out belly laughter don’t break the tone. We feel the mood in the room, and it even follows the audience out at intermission, returning in full force with the second half.
As to the ending, I shan’t tell — but as a fan of Christie, I’ll tip my cards a little. Christie works tend to seem expansive and voluminous, filled to bursting with curlicues and throwaway moments, only to reveal an even greater and all-encompassing game. Pay careful attention, take everything in, and take the characters at their word: all the clues you need are before you, even if nothing at Monkswell Manor is as straightforward as it seems.
A delightful little murder mystery, ideal for entertaining family, taking a date to the theatre, or attending as a lone sleuth.
- The Mousetrap plays at the Lower Ossington Theatre (100A Ossington Ave.) through June 12th, 2016.
- Tickets start at $49.99, and can be purchased online, by telephone (416.915.6747) or in-person from the venue.
- Although the content of the show is suitable for all ages, young children may not find the subject matter to be of interest. Recommended for ages 12 and up.
- Be aware that herbal cigarettes are smoked throughout performances. If you have an allergy, asthma or a similar condition, we recommend discussing this with the box office before making a purchase.
Production photography by Seanna Kennedy. Second photograph: David Rowan (standing), Helly Chester (sitting), David John Phillips (background).