Wednesday, 16 July 2014

A rare theatre outing - to see 'The Mousetrap'.

My first visit to any theatre in over three years. If ticket prices weren't so prohibitive I'd be making such excursions every week.

This is the first national touring production of the Agatha Christie murder mystery play that's been running continuously in London for 62 years - around 25,000 performances to date and counting - so, coming to my home town, not to have made the effort to see it might have been a bit perverse for the lover of live theatre which I am.
Even though I've known 'whodunit' for around 55 years I just wanted to take this probable final chance to see the famed play, despite there being a general consensus that it's over-rated and its playing so long is blocking a fine West End theatre from putting on worthier productions. (These very same criticisms were being voiced as long ago as the early 1970s, I clearly recall - and maybe before then.)  

I had thought that by now just about everybody would have known who was the murderer but the audible gasps of astonishment from the audience at the moment of disclosure was a surprise - and quite a pleasant one, I must say.
I'd only got to know the 'solution' because when I was around 12 or 13 I was coming home from school with a classmate who'd just been to London and was telling me excitedly about this play to which his dad had taken him. He reeled off a list of the characters on stage and said "Now who do you think was the murderer?" It may have been that he'd given an unconscious emphasis when naming that particular individual, but since then I've not only known but have managed not to tell anyone else - exactly as one is exhorted to 'keep mum' by one of the cast at the curtain call.

The single stage-setting  is the lounge of a secluded country guest-house (during a heavy snowstorm, would you believe?) where a motley collection of patrons arrive in ones. We learn at the outset that there has just been a murder in the vicinity at a seemingly unconnected location and the police have a vague description of a suspect. I shan't attempt to list the various guests without a programme in front of me as if I inadvertently miss one or my description of a particular person is wanting one may conclude that that individual is not the killer. Suffice to say that anyone who has read any of the authoress' murder mysteries will recognise the stock type of characters she's created here.

It's a 'wordy' play, despite there being a second murder, this time on-stage. I gather that at some performances in London a significant proportion of the audience nowadays consists of Japanese or other non-English-speaking tourists, who wouldn't have a clue as to what's going on - and are tempted to take photos during the performance despite strictures not to do so. No such distractions in the packed-out performance I attended.

I'd thought some of the acting might have been pretty ropey (no 'big' names in the cast). Some of it was indeed a bit mannered but I must say that on the whole it was surprisingly good. Of course one can also speak of the dated-ness of the dialogue, which does sound creaky at times, but that's like criticising the language of Priestley, G.B.S. or Wilde, even though we're all aware that Christie hardly rises to their standards. But if one accepts it as a product of its time, it passes muster.

Btw: In about 1990 I attended in London a one-person charity benefit by Sir Ian McKellan raising funds for AIDS research and care. He told the story about how he'd been accosted by a rude gentleman in the foyer of the theatre where 'The Mousetrap' was playing (Sir Ian may at the time have been raising funds for the same cause there). This person was about to enter the theatre proper when I.M. exacted his revenge. He called out to the guy "By the way, ....... did it!"
He apologised to the audience at the benefit for revealing the killer's identity but he thought that by now just about everybody knew in any case, though as this performance I went to proved, a lot of people even now still don't. 

I've bought and kept the programme for every single play, concert and opera I've attended in my entire life -  until now. The price of this one was a crippling £8 (about $14 Am.), a third of the price of the actual ticket! So, with great regret, no thanks.

I'm pleased I saw it. It wasn't an experience of memorable cherishment as far as theatrical events can be, but it was quite good fun - and is, after all, (justifiably or not), a landmark play in British theatre.


  1. I rue not keeping all my programs. Now I can't remember most of what i've seen.

    1. I can appreciate what a great loss that must feel, Dr Spo. I have several hundreds of progs which I rifle through from time to time and, only with their help, I can recall very nearly every event I attended.
      It's so difficult to read programmes in the theatre/concert hall/opera house. Not only is the lighting nearly always inadequate but there are so many distractions that the content just doesn't sink in. Even when I bring them home I rarely read them afterwards - with the particular exception of opera programmes. Their synopses are terribly useful for getting oneself familiar with the storyline and background before re-hearing that particular work.

  2. What a treat for you! Glad that you were able to take advantage of the low ticket price and experience live theatre again. I have seen so many plays, but I have never seen "Mousetrap".

    NYC ticket prices are through the roof. In the early 70's, I saw Joel Grey in "Cabaret". The orchestra seat cost $8.00. Several weeks ago, I saw the revival with Alan Cummings and the cost was $125.00

    I am fortunate to live in an area which is very close to NYC and Massachusetts which has great theatre. Next weekend I am going to see Breaking The Code" which is the true story of Alan Turing who broke Hitler's code.In all probability, this will eventually make it to Broadway, but I have the opportunity to see it now for $20.00. Btw, it is shameful how the British showed their gratitude.

    PS. You make mention of Sir Ian Mckellan. I am following the weekly series, "Vicious" and am wondering if you have seen it and what your thoughts are?

    I am hoping that you get the opportunity to attend more live performances.

    1. Lots to remark on in this comment of yours, Paul.
      Firstly, if I had the means I'd be doing theatre reviews as often as film ones. In fact the former may well come to predominate, but it's only conjecture until I win the National Lottery.

      Who was your Sally Bowles in the Cabaret you saw? The British 'original' was (hard to believe it now) Judi Dench. Hard to believe because she's never had a singing voice - and even hearing her on the original cast production singing the title song it's rather embarrassing, with that 'catch' she always has, even in her speaking voice. And one firther thought. Imagine her as the original Grizabella in Lloyd Webber's 'Cats' as she was cast. 'Memory' is such a difficult song to sing, with an exceptionally huge range demanded - and how J.D. could have managed it is beyond my imagination. (I've never heard her doing it, not know if there's a recording. Probably not)
      Btw: Alan Cummings is one of those Scottish celebrities who've 'come out' on one side or the other before the much anticipated referendum on Scottish Independence in September. He's a 'for'. Others have joined the 'status quo' side. I just wish they'd all keep their opinions to themselves. When celebrities publicly proclaim their politics it always seems to tarnish them, at least in my eyes.

      'The Mousetrap' I saw yesterday, being at a provincial theatre, was at correspondingly deflated prices. Current ticket prices at London's West End 'prestige' theatres are fully comparable with the recent cost you paid, probably even more for a really worthwhile seat. Definitely out of reach for regular theatre goers with limited funds.
      Oh, yesterday my seat had a slightly restricted view, being right at the end of Row F, though the price wasn't any less.

      I saw 'Breaking the Code' in London about 25 years ago, but I can't for the life of me recall who played the part though it will have been a biggish name (I'll have the programme somewhere in the pile). It may have been Derek Jacobi who also played it in a TV version more recently.
      You're seeing it for just $8? Crikey! That's 'bargain basement' for you! You must tell me what you thought of it.
      Turing's story is quite widely known here, moreso since this year our Conservative P.M. in yet another flash of 'enlightenment', got his government to grant him a posthumous pardon for the 'crime' for which he had to undergo his 'chemical castration', and which Her Majesty was willing to sign. Yes, all commentators on the issue which I've heard have been fulsome in their agreement to the apology the government issued - though it didn't do the man himself much good. Incidentally, I'm not sure if you know that there's still some considerable doubt whether his death was an intended suicide. An accident seems at least as likely as he was notoriously untidy and slovenly in habits though, for the record and not to be too cruel about it, suicide makes for a better story.

      I never saw 'Vicious' only a few clips of it, mainly because I'm not such a great telly watcher. Reviews here were generally favourable though there were complaints about the stereotypical portrayal of the leads (Jacobi again) being what heteros like to think ageing gays are like - bitchy as hell and pulling strips off one another. I may watch a couple of the programmes when the re-runs come round though it doesn't interest me that much. What do you think?

      On my list of films to see is 'Boyhood' which I most definitely shy away from (Kids! Ugh!) but it's had such excellent reviews and it's such an experimental piece (but so darnn long - 2 + 3/4 hours, for crying out loud!) that I feel almost duty bound to see what the fuss is about. Next week, maybe. If I'm in the mood.

  3. Lots to reply to, Ray.

    The original Sally Bowles in the late 60's production of "Cabaret" was Jill Haworth, who was born in England and was in the film "Exodus". Natasha Richardson played Sally in the 1998 revival and Michelle Williams is currently playing Sally in the current revival of the 1998 revival. Gets kind of hairy, doesn't it?

    The 1998 revival with Cumming took on a whole new reality.. In the Kit Kat Club glamour and glitz were absent and replaced by sleeze and grit. Talent was also absent - a talented singer would certainly not work there. So with this reasoning, you can say Dench's singing voice works. However, in another show, Dench's rendition of "Send In The Clowns" is perfection.

    I didn't realize that "Breaking The Code" was written over 25 years ago. The add states that it was written by Hugh Whitemore. I thought that it was a new work. I'll find out when I get my program next week.

    I had the same reaction to "Vicious" as you - stereotypical. I don't know why I watch it? It's like an accident you can't take your eyes away from it.

    Like you, I normally shy away from kid pictures, but because so many years were invested in this, it should be quite an experience watching it.

    1. Sounds like playing Sally Bowles is an obligatory 'rite of passage' for actresses. I only ever saw the musical on stage once, and that by a University student company. It was okay, I suppose, though still in an era when portraying anything gay was regarded as brave and 'cutting edge'. All a bit passe now.
      It was interesting to see which songs had not yet been written for the film version. I wonder if today's theatre performances now include the song 'Maybe This Time' (written especially, of course, for Liza with a zee) in order to satisfy audience expectations, rather like they now do for other filmed musicals ('Sound of Music for one). If audiences always only saw the true original versions I dare say they might feel cheated.
      Btw; Didn't Alan Cumming (yes, without an 's') win a Tony award for his performance as the Emcee?

      I have heard Judi D. singing 'Send in the Clowns' and it does suit her particular voice. I think I'm right in saying that Sondheim wrote the song with Glynis Johns in mind, another lady with a 'catch' in her voice.

      Yes, it was the Hugh Whitemore play which I saw at London's Royal Haymarket theatre (the ultimate 'prestige' location) and it did star Derek Jacobi. The date was even earlier than I'd thought, and I now see that Jacobi and company (but this time featuring the lovely Jenny Agutter, whom I'd give so much to have seen) did also take the play to Broadway. The BBC version of the same play was actually as long ago as 1996. When you see it will there a well-known name playing Turing? It doesn't necessarily have to be a British actor. I'm confident you'll have a satisfying experience.

      At this very moment in the background on the radio is a qualified positive review of the new Planet/Apes film which I didn't really want to see one bit, though I did very much like its director's 'Cloverfield' - and Andy Serkis as chief ape would be worth watching, even though computer-modified. But it's a kind of animal film which I always tend to avoid so I'm undecided. However, seeing that AND 'Boyhood' in the same week would be carrying self-sacrifice to extremes!

      Think that covers it all for now. See you later!

  4. I fall into the category of those who do not know who dunnit. I haven't seen this play and I must have been away with the fairies if ever it came up in conversation.

    1. 'Away with the fairies' - very good, F.B. ;-)

      I think one of the main reasons for the longevity of this play, which just refuses to die, (unlike at least one member of the cast), is because of the complete unexpectedness of the identity of the murderer. If I hadn't known I can imagine getting quite a frisson of thrill when it's revealed. But anyone who's even a bit familiar with Agatha Christie's novels will know that the culprit is either the one who is least likely to have committed the murder or even someone whom one had thought it would have been impossible for that person to have done it. I'd better say no more. But if you like puzzles it's a play for you.
      Not sure if it ever played in the USA but I'd be very surprised if it hadn't at some time. Some hopeful impresario must have been banking on it emulating its success outside the U.K. - in vain.