The Mousetrap (Theatre Royal, Brighton)

The Mousetrap (Theatre Royal, Brighton, until Saturday, January 30th)

When Agatha Christie wrote her classic whodunit drama The Mousetrap, she expected that it would run for about eight months. How wrong she was: the play famously continues its stint in London’s West End (where it has been playing since 1952) and since the diamond anniversary in 2012 a touring production has also been doing the rounds and captivating audiences.

Now on another punishing tour which lasts until August The Mousetrap continues to prove that the play’s the thing. It’s a delight to realise that even after all this time many in the audience have no idea of how the play ends (not a spoiler shall pass my lips), and it’s a joy to discover a strong cast giving their all in this production – and that it still manages to have the edge over its London parent.

It may be cheesy in places – but even cheese has quality and rarefied varieties. And while it often shows its age it never becomes creaky, demonstrating just why it is probably the best and most skilful of Dame Agatha’s stage dramas.

Director Ian Watt-Smith, a veteran in directing this play on the London stage, continues to ensure this has the highest of production values, there is a tangible vigour and energy, and the cast is very strong, with most getting to the heart of their roles and giving extra dimensions and nuances to characters who could so easily be stale and clichéd.

It is the most traditional of country house mysteries where, on a wintry night where the roads are blocked and the phones cut off, a psychotic murderer is on the loose, apparently seeking revenge for an historical injustice. Each character has their own secrets and it is no wonder that everyone suspects each other such are the liberal helping of red herrings and natty twists. Even the jaunty nursery rhyme Three Blind Mice becomes the signature tune to murder.

An exceptionally strong company is headed by the wonderful Louise Jameson: we last saw her tackle the Queen of Crime a couple of years ago when she played Miss Marple in A Murder is Announced, but here she is gloriously bossy and disapproving as the prim and proper Mrs Boyle. Anna Andresen and Nick Barclay are partnered very well indeed as Mollie and Giles Ralston, the new and inexperienced proprietors of Monkswell Manor, both finding emotional depth in what could so easily be one-dimensional characters.

Lewis Collier is a commanding Det. Sgt Trotter, unpeeling some interesting layers to one of the most famous stage coppers, while Gregory Cox’s Mr Paravicini is wonderfully enigmatic, oozing both a malevolent charm and a wicked twinkle.

Tony Boncza is a solid and dependable Major Matcalf, definitely the sort you’d want on your side should there ever be a deranged killer stalking your house; Amy Downham is good as the standoffish Miss Casewell, whose haughty veneer may be hiding a suspicious past; while Oliver Gully teeters close to making young architect Christopher Wren too camp, but tones it down to become more sympathetic.

The atmosphere is claustrophobic, with even the falling snow outside the window adding to the chill. Richard Carter’s sound design and Peter Vaughan-Clarke’s lighting both add considerably to the nervous tension and sense of foreboding.

Seeing the play yet again, it is remarkable how well-drawn the characters are, how clever the construction, and how the moments of humour relieve the tension at exactly the right moments.

While the hype may be stronger than the whole, and while the play as a piece of drama probably doesn’t even deserve its legendary status, The Mousetrap nonetheless continues to be a must-see for all partners in crime and never disappoints.

David Guest