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New Theatre, Oxford

I first saw The Mousetrap 35 years ago at St Martin’s theatre in London’s West End. It was, and still is, considered an essential stop for anybody visiting London. As a young child, I vividly remember the stark contrast between the somewhat seedy West End and the faded glamour of the beautiful theatre. It was an exciting theatrical experience and so it remains, today, in its 67th continuous year.

The Mousetrap is a classic whodunnit by Agatha Christie. It started life as a 30-minute BBC radio play broadcast in 1947 as a birthday present for Queen Mary, George VI’s mother. It was adapted into a play and had its world premiere in 1952 at the Ambassadors Theatre in London. It has been playing continuously ever since.

The Mousetrap brings together a cast of 8 very different characters. Giles and Mollie Ralston have just opened a guest house in their recently inherited Monkswell Manor. There is a terrible blizzard and the guests arrive, only just managing to make it to the Manor before huge snow drifts and heavy snow cut off access completely. The guests and the proprietors are alone and isolated, so when a murder takes place, the murderer can be only one of the remaining characters. The first half of the production is taken up with setting the scene and getting to know each character. The second half of the play explores means, motive and opportunity until finally, shockingly the killer is revealed.

There are stories of loss and fear which are illustrative of the play’s post World War II context. These stories may not be so believable to those who grew up with the internet, for whom tracking down a person takes just a few clicks. Indeed, this play is beginning to serve as a historical reminder of that era, when the roles and behaviour of men and women were clearly prescribed, and society was just beginning to take stock of the toll taken by war.

While the Oxford Playhouse’s age guidelines recommend that the play is suitable for those over 12, there were a lot of younger children in the audience. Parents of younger children will want to know that in this production, the murder takes place in the dark and is not visible to the audience. The audience sees a dead body. The audience also sees a gun being pointed at a character. The play touches on child abuse and, of course, deals with the murder itself, but not in great detail. Parents with mature children who are younger than 12 may decide that this play is appropriate.

This UK tour, produced by Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen and Adam Spiegel, is slick, beautiful and professional. There are some outstanding performances. Harriett Hare as Mollie Ralston and Saskia Vaigncourt-Strallen as the no-nonsense Miss Casewell are superb. Time flies when these two are speaking. Indeed, all the actors give professional and competent performances. Lewis Chandler, who gives a Marmite (either love it or hate it) performance as the young Christopher Wren, puts his own individual stamp on the character.

In this production, the stunning original 1952 set is lovingly reproduced in almost forensic detail. Without the beautiful and intricate set, the play would lose much of its impact. Similarly, the sound design by Richard Carter for Orbital Sound and the original lighting design by Peter Vaughan Clarke create the claustrophobic and eerie atmosphere and make the actors’ jobs much easier.

The Mousetrap is a reliable theatrical night out. Every aspect of the production is professional and careful. Some aspects, such as the lighting, sound, and sets are outstanding. This production has something for everyone. Everyone will like it, but I’m not sure anyone will love it.

I would recommend spending the money on tickets if you are looking for something to do with a disparate group of people of different tastes and ages. Similarly, if you want to be part of a historical theatre tradition, then this is the production for you.

But if you want to see theatre at its cutting-edge best, if you want to be challenged, feel passionate, and have your breath taken away, then go elsewhere. The Mousetrap is like a warm, reassuring cup of hot chocolate. Slap bang in your comfort zone.

  • Drama
  • By Agatha Christie
  • Directed by Gareth Armstrong
  • Cast includes: Gwyneth Strong, Harriett Hare, Saskia Vaigncourt-Strallen, David Alcock, Nick Biadon, Lewis Chandler, John Griffiths
  • New Theatre, Oxford

About The Author

Editorial team & reviewer (UK)

Hailing from Japan, Catherine Flutsch studied philosophy and law in Australia at Sydney University. She moved to the UK to practice law and to soak up the art and culture. After a career in corporate law spanning Sydney, Tokyo and London, Catherine left legal practice and moved to Oxford. During her time as a full-time parent, she developed a portrait painting practice. She subsequently set up a management consultancy firm. Being her own boss means that she has time to indulge her passion for theatre, art and dance. Catherine has a particular love for Shakespeare and a special interest in Shakespeare's historical plays.

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