YOU KNOW THE drill. A bunch of sophisticated strangers, honed to the teeth by Agatha Christie’s fine and characteristically succinct descriptions, finds itself isolated from the rest of the world. And everyone’s a little annoying until someone gets themselves murdered. The delicious frenzy of the slick whodunit in the form of The Mousetrap, graces Montecasino’s stage right now. And you really shouldn’t miss it. It has, after all, been on the boards for some 65 continuous years.
As it begins, you remember why a production of this nature can have such longevity. Not only are the hairpin bends in the plot designed to catch you completely unawares, but the texture of each character, complete with his or her idiosyncrasies, secrets and bald lies, is utterly perfect. The timeframe is clear but there’s a timelessness, a universality that gives it legibility even in 2019. And you, in the audience, are kept just sufficiently in the know for you to make all the wrong assumptions and judgements.
From veterans Malcolm Terrey (who plays Major Metcalf), Mark Wynter (Mr Paravicini) and Michele Maxwell (Mrs Boyle) to relative newcomers Melissa Haiden (Mollie Ralston), Matthew Lotter (Christopher Wren) and Shannyn Fourie (Miss Casewell), the work is beautifully cast, with a smidgeon of the sinister, lots of humour and a jolly good murder, to boot!
Set in Monkswell an old manor house, some 30 miles outside London, which has been converted to a guest house, in a heavy snowstorm, the piece is very proper. So proper, indeed, that you may reflect on how delightful it is to spoof plays of this nature, and recall The Play that Goes Wrong or The Mystery of Irma Vep, staged in this theatre. This play doesn’t go wrong, however, and there are no ghoulies lurking in the closets but the most annoying guest in the establishment gets their comeuppance. But it’s not quite what you think.
Put together an historical abuse of three hapless children, a recent murder that’s got the wireless crackling, some unexplained visits to London and a couple of stark raving mad individuals hiding behind other identities, and you’ve got the basic recipe for the piece. Touching on baggage involving a fortuitous car accident, a little too much rouge on an elderly man’s cheeks, a retired judge and a person named after a famous architect, the work is swimming with red herrings to keep you foxed and focused. And then there’s a macabre weaving of children’s songs and violent rhymes to give you goosebumps.
The only anachronism in the piece is the pair of jeans worn by the Christopher Wren character, as they seem to reach beyond the timeframe of the work. But it’s an error you forgive rapidly, given the fulsome performance delivered by Lotter in this role which teeters on the brink of over the top, yielding a character who is wonderfully vulnerable.
Ploughing into gender stereotypes that may get the politically correct police atwitter, the work is flamboyant and outrageous within the British social confines it represents. It’s an essay on manners as much as it is a crispy social document about contemporary human nature with all its hilarious and downright silly foibles. Delivered with aplomb, it’s a mirror to society, and this one’s as good as it gets.
• The Mousetrap is written by Agatha Christie and directed by Jonathan Tafler. It is performed by Shannyn Fourie, Melissa Haiden, Matthew Lotter, Michele Maxwell, Aidan Scott, Mark Sykes, Malcolm Terrey and Mark Wynter at the Pieter Toerien Theatre, Montecasino complex in Fourways, Johannesburg until March 3. Call 011 511 1818.