What a treat for the Adelaide folk to start 2023! John Frost for Crossroads Live has brought not one but two fantastic, albeit completely different, productions to our state and the audience are lapping it up!
This time, it is the mounting of a new Australian production to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the opening of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap in London.
Agatha Christie remains one of the most prolific writers of all time, spanning five decades and over 80 novels and short story collections. She wrote over 19 plays, of which the most famous, The Mouse Trap, is the longest running play in the world. With more than two billion books published, Christie is outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare. Not bad, huh?
What began as a 30-minute radio drama called Three Blind Mice, commissioned as a present for the 80th birthday of Queen Mary, consort of King George V in 1947, the story drew from the real-life case of Dennis O’Neill who died after he and his brother Terence suffered abuse while in the foster care of a Shropshire farmer and his wife.
Five years later it was renamed The Mousetrap, in reference to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, had its world premiere at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham on 6 October 1952, and the rest as they say is history.
This version is superbly brought to life by the most talented cast and crew ever assembled in Australia.
At the helm, Robyn Nevin, one of the countries most lauded directors, created a version of the original with renewed authenticity and impeccable stagecraft.
With magnificent lighting design by Trudy Dalgleish; hues of orange and moody blue and era appropriate costumes and the intricate, multi-dimensional set design by Isabel Hudson, we were taken back to Winter 1952 at Monkswell Manor.
A young couple, Mollie and Giles Ralston have recently opened a guest house and are waiting for their visitors to arrive.
First to arrive is Christopher Wren, an unkempt, flighty young man. Next is Mrs Boyle, a prim and proper critic of everything and is pleased by nothing, followed by Major Metcalf a retired ex-military man. Last to arrive, is Miss Casewell, an aloof, masculine woman who thinks nothing of speaking about her horrific childhood experiences.
An unexpected guest arrives, Mr Paravacini, with a foreign accent and artificially aged with makeup, he tells the Ralston’s his car has overturned in a snowdrift and the roads are now blocked, trapping all in their houses.
The following day, while snowed in and restless, Mollie receives a call from from Superintendent Hogben of the Berkshire Police, informing her that he is dispatching Sergeant Trotter to their guest house, and they must listen closely to what he has to say. Concerned, the Ralston’s have no clue why they are under police suspicion.
Trotter appears by the window, donning a pair of skis and Major Metcalf discovers the phone line is down. He then explains he has been sent regarding the murder of Maureen Lyon. The now deceased woman and her husband had mistreated their three foster children, resulting in the death of the youngest. Both adults were imprisoned for their actions, with Mr Lyon dying in gaol, and Mrs Lyon serving her sentence, only to be released and found strangled. Police suspect the elder boy of the abused children, of being the killer.
Trotter then reveals that a notebook found at the murder scene contained the address of Monkswell Manor, along with the words Three Blind Mice, and a note pinned to the woman’s body stating, ‘This is the First’.
What ensues is a classic ‘Whodunnit?’ as Trotter is determined to find out how the Ralston’s guest house is connected to the murder and whether the residents are in grave danger.
Guests turn on each other, Mollie and Giles become suspicious of one another, and all a playing a game of cat and mouse before the identity of the murderer is finally revealed.
The audience ‘oohing’ and ‘aahhing’ at every turn, trying to guess the culprit!
This well-oiled cast play their prospective characters flawlessly.
Anna O’Byrne and Alex Rathgeber as the husband-and-wife proprietors of Monkswell Manor were splendid in their chemistry together, starting as doe-eyed, attractive newlyweds, and ending as frenetic, frightened innkeepers perturbed by the events of the past two days. We learn that neither of the couple knew each other very well before their marriage.
Theatre doyenne and National Treasure Geraldine Turner is solid and unadulterated as the imposing Mrs Boyle; who complains about everything and is disapproving of every effort Mollie and Giles produce to make her comfortable. It is towards the end of Act I that we learn Mrs Boyle was the magistrate who sent the three children to live with the foster parents, but she refutes any responsibility for the tragedy.
The middle-aged, square-shouldered military man Major Metcalf is played by another theatre and television star, Adam Murphy. His performance is soldierly but endearing.
Charlotte Friels plays the manly, mysterious Miss Casewell with aplomb and certainty. She moves about the stage with conviction and a posture that hides pain and suffering of the past.
The cheerful, common and Cockney Sergeant Trotter, portrayed by Tom Conroy, spends his time explaining the motive for the murder of the woman in London and is there to protect the guests in the household and to find the murderer. His characterisation is truthful and likeable and plays to one of the many themes of justice and injustice.
Gerry Connelly as Mr Paravacini, the foreign, dark and unusually aged man with a flamboyant moustache is superb. Those familiar with Christie’s other works, Paravacini seems to be a slightly taller edition of Poirot. Connelly plays Paravacini with jest and dramatic flair, who is quite taken with himself and his ability to lure the ladies. The audience and characters aren’t sure what to make of this character, but his ability to place himself in the centre of the spectacle ensure our suspicions are always on high alert.
Young Laurence Boxhall, an Adelaide born actor, was the standout for me as Christopher Wren.
Child-like, wild and neurotic, Boxhall encapsulated this character to his very core. With a comedic undertone, and a slight Kramer-esque pomposity, Boxhall gives the audience enough backstory of Wren; he appreciates fine furniture, enjoys cooking, often blurts out nursery rhymes at odd moments, but ultimately, we learn little substance about him at all.
This cast bring the themes of predictability, death, order and disorder, punishment, revenge, and insanity together for a night of suspense, curiosity, and anticipation that you won’t forget.
They close the show after bows with a glorious acapella rendition of Three Blind Mice prior to hushing the audience to concealment of the ending.
Remember, keep the secret, and see the show before they scurry off!