Theatre Review: The Mousetrap at Milton Keynes

Bruno Langley in The Mousetrap.
Bruno Langley in The Mousetrap.

I think I have discovered the secret of The Mousetrap’s extraordinary longevity. Do you want to know what it is?

I’m not allowed to tell you.

No, that really is the secret. Had the audience not been sworn to secrecy at the end by the murderer standing in the creepy country house (how fiendish) I could be dropping you clues left right and centre, thus saving you £10 and a trip to Milton Keynes Theatre.

But I won’t. Not because I can’t, strictly speaking, but because that final plea to keep mum is like being forbidden from doing something by Agatha Christie herself. Which feels like sacrilege.

Although Mrs Christie’s burnished reputation has, I’m sorry to say, dulled slightly for me on seeing one of her most famous works.

Perhaps it was the expectation that did it, because this is after all being trumpeted as the Diamond Tour, celebrating 60 years since The Mousetrap was first performed.

Perhaps the actors could have lifted it above the ordinary more often than they did, because there were certainly flashes of great comic acting, especially from Steven France as Christopher Wren, one of the several murder suspects at Monkswell Manor.

And Karl Howman was pleasingly cantankerous as the mysterious Italian stranger arriving out of the blizzard.

But I think it is probably because, after 60 years, we’ve seen this type of thing so many times now.

Back then, the whodunnit concept was presumably almost enough to carry the play on its own, but these days after a lifetime of everything from Bergerac to Sherlock, there are few murder mysteries a modern audience can’t see the end of from a long way out.

This feels a little harsh because even despite that there was still a lot to admire. The layering of characters as they appear one by one, for example, does feel like the setting of the trap in the title by a master hunter.

But after the key event of halfway that tension evaporates, and trying to recapture it is a bit like trying to catch the mouse after it has already seen the trap sprung.

The back and forth dialogues start to feel stretched out, and there is much melodramatic weeping and wailing from the timid woman guest house owner Mollie Ralston (Jemma Walker) when poignancy may have been more apt given the subject matter of abused children.

But despite all that, the conventions of the genre mean I still find myself unable to advise people against seeing it.

No matter what anyone told me about the plot or acting beforehand, I know I would still have wanted to see it for myself to, well, see whodunnit. And I’m still glad I did.

I’m glad I now know who the murderer was and why and that I have been inducted into the ranks of those who know the The Secret of The Mousetrap, who are the mice and who sets the trap.

Like a murder with witnesses who are blackmailed into not telling what they have seen in case it affects other people, we are asked to keep our secret. You may not like what you’ve seen but you also understand that the consequences of loudly blowing the whistle on the perpetrators are just too much.

I could tell you who did it then you wouldn’t have to see what goes on before, but that would be no good at all. We like a ‘good mystery’ (the phrase itself giving the production itself a handy escape route; it doesn’t have to be great).

It is a clear case of the arrival for once being more satisfying than the journey, and so The Mousetrap endures.

There is guilt at play here in whodunnits and not just on the stage. And the feeling of wanting to tell something you aren’t allowed to...

Ah but I have already said too much.