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Kudos to Theatre Calgary for programming Agatha’s Christie’s warhorse, The Mousetrap, to kick off the company’s 56th season.
Now in its 70th year in London, The Mousetrap has the distinction of being the world’s longest-running play. To commemorate this milestone, there is a new touring production of The Mousetrap in Australia, talk of its first Broadway run in the near future, and a lavish, witty production right here in Calgary.
This is the first time Theatre Calgary has staged a Christie thriller, let alone The Mousetrap, so who better to direct it than Craig Hall, who, as the former artistic director of Vertigo Theatre for 11 years, knows a thing or three about directing stage thrillers. He knows not to take these plots and characters too seriously, because Christie certainly didn’t. Her plays are filled with macabre humour, but they can’t be overly campy, and Hall knows just how far to let his actors take their wildly inventive characterizations.
Before the lights go up on Scott Reid’s stunningly elegant set, the audience learns there has been the murder of a woman named Maureen Lyons in London, but that the killer has gotten away. Not too far from London, newlyweds Molly and Giles Ralston are awaiting the arrival of the first guests at their new guesthouse, Monkswell Manor. Molly inherited this beautiful old home from her aunt.
Vanessa Leticia Jette’s Molly is all bubbly and oozes positivity, while Mike Tan’s Giles, though supportive and cheery, is not as certain this whole guesthouse thing was a great idea. In a Christie play, people like Molly and Giles are never really as happy, carefree and without secrets or peccadillos as they first seem as Jette and Tan reveal when they let down their facades.
In fine Christie fashion, the four scheduled guests are an eccentric group.
There’s Christopher Wren, a hyperactive young man. In Matthew Mooney’s hands, he’s a bundle of nerves and a catalogue of mannerisms. It’s a performance that walks a thin line of extravagance, but near the end of the play, in a most touching scene with Vanessa Leticia Jette’s nurturing Molly, Mooney lets us know all these affectations are Wren’s defence mechanism against a cruel world that has belittled him for his sexuality. It’s a daring performance that hits its mark.
Mrs. Boyle is a pompous, self-important, self-righteous, retired magistrate, and Natascha Girgis makes her one of those steely, spiteful harridans that would be very much at home in a Dickens novel.
Major Metcalfe is a retired army officer whose only purpose seems to be to make peace between Boyle and the other guests, but then there’s his habit of skulking around the basement and into closets that put a different twist to Robert Klein’s fatherly smiles. Perhaps his menace is more subtle than Boyle’s.
Kit Benz’s Miss Casewell exudes confidence. She doesn’t walk around a room; she strides in a manly fashion. Christie’s inclusion of sexually ambivalent characters was remarkable for the 1950s, and Benz brings a haughty pride to her portrayal.
Mr. Paravicini is the unexpected guest who says his car spun into a snowbank in the impending storm, and he delights in being mysterious. There’s an intriguing artificiality to almost everything Christian Goutsis does or says, that keeps the audience as confused as to who he really is, and why he is at Monkswell Manor as are his fellow guests.
The second unexpected guest is Sergeant Trotter, who battles the storm on skis to warn the others there is a homicidal killer among them, and that two of them are the intended victims. Like the policeman he plays, Tyrell Crews takes control of the stage from the moment he enters, so it’s all the more powerful when people’s reluctance to co-operate makes him lose his temper, or shudder in dismay.
It takes Christie, Hall and his accomplished cast a bit of time and effort to set up the famous trap, but from the first moment it is sprung, the action, and the fun, take off and never let up.
The Mousetrap is a certified crowd-pleaser. It may not be as thrilling and accomplished as her Witness for the Prosecution, And Then There Were None, or Murder on the Nile, but you are guaranteed a good time at Monkswell Manor whether you’re a first-time or return visitor. Molly and Giles are taking bookings until Oct. 8 and rooms start at just $39.