No spoilers for Agatha Christie’s 70-year-old play

Since 1952, there has been a mystery playing out in theatres around the world. Two mysteries, actually. One is the story of The Mousetrap, a whodunit written by best-selling crime writer Agatha Christie. The second is how, for the most part, no one has spoiled any of the big twists and turns of a play that has just turned 70.

The production itself has a storied history. It started out as a radio play commissioned as a birthday present for Queen Mary in the 1940s. From there, its success inspired a short story, and finally the play itself – which is now the longest running West End Show in history. This month, the production arrives back in Melbourne as part of a tour around Australia.

Alex Rathgeber, Laurence Boxhall, Anna O’Byrne, Tom Conroy & Adam Murphy in a scene from The Mousetrap.Credit:Brian Geach

The story kicks off when a young couple open up a bed and breakfast, explains Laurence Boxhall, who plays the character Christopher Wren.

“It’s their opening days of the guest house when all of these all these interesting characters show up.” He pauses to think. “They’re all very different, and all very mysterious … I can’t be any more vague if I tried,” he adds with a laugh. “You don’t want to be the guy that after 70 years ruins The Mousetrap.”

This staging was directed by renowned actor, producer and director Robyn Nevin, who had previously never seen the production. Hher first encounter of the story was reading the script. “I was very impressed by its structure. It’s masterfully written,” she reflects. Of Christie herself: “Isn’t she fascinating? And to have achieved what she achieved in that period was quite extraordinary.“

But it wasn’t just the writing that drew Nevin to the play. “It was also the psychology of the characters,” she says. There was depth in the story that she didn’t expect, and she points to the fact that it’s based on a true case as why. “It’s got a very dark story at its centre, and one that remains absolutely relevant today.”

L-R Adam Murphy, Anna O’Byrne, Alex Rathgeber and Laurence Boxhall.Credit:Justin McManus

This version of The Mousetrap is faithful to what is written down and what has been playing out for the past seven decades, but as with any production, when new voices are added, when new actors are cast, things change, ever so slightly.

“What I was very keen to do was to open it up, to allow the layers of complexity to breathe,” says Nevin. “I’ve seen a recording of the London production, and they certainly don’t do that … they don’t open it up to the pain. I was interested in the darkness of it.” She emphasises though, despite the seam of truth and tragedy, the production itself is humorous and entertaining.

For Boxhall, this role is something he has been waiting for even before his career as an actor started. He first saw a community production of The Mousetrap in his mid-teens. “When I left the theatre, I said to my parents if I ever get the chance to play Christopher Wren, that will be probably pretty cool. I think I could do something with that character.“

Robyn Nevin was drawn to the darker side of the The Mousetrap.Credit:Hugh Stewart

He has just finished the Adelaide season of the play, around the corner from where he first saw it. He has relished the opportunity to bring his version of the character to life. “The way that his cog fits in the machine is so unique … “Someone has played this character every year, for 70 years,” he says. “How do you do something new? And what can you bring to it?“

How is it, though, that a mystery play seen by so many generations of audiences over so many years has managed to keep its secrets?

Scott Baker, a local Agatha Christie enthusiast recalls going on the TV quiz show Hard Quiz with Christie as his specialist subject. One of the questions he was asked, had he answered honestly, would have given away a key point to one of the stories. “[Host Tom Gleeson] made fun of me of wanting to spoil the plot of a book that that is nearly 100 years old,” he says. But the age of a work isn’t relevant, he argues. “I don’t see that it’s any justification to say, ‘well, the book’s 100 years old, everyone’s had a chance to read it by now.’ There are always new audiences coming to a work.”

The same applies to The Mousetrap – just because it’s been running for 70 years, doesn’t mean that a new audience should miss out on unwinding the intricate strands that Christie wove all those years ago. In an era where there is normally about half an hour grace period after something airs on TV or lands in the cinema before the spoilers start spilling onto the internet, the fact that you have to dig to find out what happens in The Mousetrap is highly unusual.

Mystery writer Agatha Christie, author of The Mousetrap.Credit:Alamy

At the end of each show, the audience is asked to stay quiet about what they’ve seen – and for 70 years they’ve all done it. “I have thought about this is collective agreement of a nightly audience that they will keep the secret,” says Nevin.

Part of it is perhaps audience members wanting others to have the same experience as them; to pick up every clue to try and guess the ending.

Depending on which actor you look at, how someone delivers a line, which furtive glance you manage to catch, your theory on who the criminal is will likely be entirely different to that of the person sitting next to you. Nevin says one of the things she enjoys is hearing people exchange notes in the intermission. “They’re all quite certain about who did it. And they’re all wrong. It’s fascinating, and I just love it.”

    Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is on at the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne from February 17.

    A cultural guide to going out and loving your city. Sign up to our Culture Fix newsletter here.

    Most Viewed in Culture

    From our partners

    Source: Read Full Article