Review: The Mousetrap (Theatre Royal, Brighton, until Saturday, April 20)

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It may have been running in London for more than 60 years, but the diamond anniversary tour of Agatha Christie’s infamous The Mousetrap is playing to packed houses and continues to thrill audiences with its whodunit guessing game.

When I first saw what has become the world’s longest-running production 30 years ago in London it was already looking tired, hammy and very old hat. Now on only its second ever national tour since 1952, this production may be a near carbon copy of its West End parent but has sparkle, zest and a timeless charisma.

Gold class production values and a faultless cast, all of whom get to the very heart of their characters and give them real personality instead of relying on cliché, make this a must-see and surely reinvigorate the piece as the Queen of Crime’s finest stage play.

It remains a surprise to realise how many people are unaware of the plot, so no spoilers here, but it must warm the hearts of the players to hear the gasps of astonishment when the murderer is revealed in this country house mystery in which a psychotic murderer is on the loose, seeking revenge for an old injustice.

Leading an exceptionally strong company is Bob Saul as Det Sgt Trotter, a finely tuned performance of dynamism, with a twinkling energy and edgy charm reminiscent of Matt Smith in Doctor Who. Jemma Walker wrests every emotional nuance out of young guest house proprietor Mollie Ralston, with Bruno Langley finding hidden depths in the normally uninteresting and dull role of her husband Giles.

Steven France successfully avoids super campery as the engaging and troubled Christopher Wren; Graham Seed is delightfully restrained as the mysterious and genial ex-Army major; and Karl Howman splendidly rich as the suspicious foreigner Mr Paravicini. Rounding off the superb cast are Elizabeth Power as the starchy and unpleasant Mrs Boyle and Clare Wilkie as the aloof Miss Casewell, apparently harbouring some childhood secret.

Director Ian Watt-Smith, a veteran in directing this play on the London stage, ensures that none of the cast allows their performance to tumble into caricature and amazingly preserves a freshness which means the audience is never once tempted to run its finger through the dust. Sound designer Richard Carter guarantees that the only creaks are of spine-chilling significance, and even Peter Vaughan Clarke’s lighting adds tremendously to the claustrophobic atmosphere.

Newcomers to this Christie classic will surely be impressed by this production, which has a punishing tour schedule of more than a year, while anyone returning as a partner in crime is likely to want to see it all over again thanks to a version that proves beyond all reasonable doubt that the play’s the thing.

David Guest