Review: The Mousetrap
Peninsula Productions has created a thoroughly enjoyable evening at the theatre with its current presentation, the 1952 Agatha Christie classic The Mousetrap (running until July 28 at Coast Capital Playhouse).
Solid direction by Wendy Bollard, an appealing and talented cast, a wonderfully evocative set (designed by Andrea Olund) and a general respect for the audience – as opposed to a slapdash, 'we're-only-volunteers-after-all' approach that undermines some local productions – hallmark this as a superior example of community theatre and well worth the $18-23 ticket price.
My only reservation about Bollard's entertaining interpretation – in which she has given her actors full license to mine humour from the eccentricities of the snowbound guests at Monkswell Manor – is that a necessary undercurrent of fear suffers in the process.
She's by no means alone in adopting this lightness of tone with Christie – past film and television adaptations, after all, have gone even further, treating the legendary mystery author's sinister souffles as little more than a series of vintage style parades.
But The Mousetrap – for all of the wryly comedic social observation Christie revelled in – is still a notably claustrophobic puzzle, built of repressed guilts, childhood traumas, an underlying dread of authority and a simmering potful of class and generational conflicts in post-Second World War Britain, chillingly underscored by the familiar nursery rhyme, Three Blind Mice.
Because of the light tone of this production, there are times when it's hard to imagine the characters being unable to break free of the psychological and physical confines of the murderer's trap. And when things do take a turn for the grimly serious, the transitions end up seeming too abrupt.
That said, The Mousetrap offers many delights for lovers of whodunnits, and Bollard and her players do an excellent job of revealing Christie's cleverly placed clues one-by-one and supplying enough 'fishy' reactions for a regiment of red herrings.
On the face of it, the situation is simple enough. A heavy snowfall has cut off Monkswell from the outside world – but not before we learn that a woman has been brutally murdered in London, and that the perpetrator may be among those stranded at the manor.
Stage newcomer Laine Henderson makes a most distinguished debut as Mollie Ralston – owner of the newly-opened guest house – painting a fine portrait of a sympathetic young woman of pluck and spirit, very much in the British stiff-upper-lip mould of the time. When unfolding events evoke much deeper emotions in Mollie, Henderson conveys them naturally and believably.
Another newcomer, Spenser Dunlop, makes up for his relative inexperience with an appropriately-accented and well-pitched performance as Sergeant Trotter, the youthful policeman dispatched on skis to check out a lead to the London murder at Monkswell. While a few hesitations betray his own youth, Dunlop's overall authority and a surprisingly accurate grasp of the required manner of British officialdom mark him as a player of great promise for the future.
Stephen Benjamin Fowler – not, perhaps, obvious casting for Mollie's husband, Giles, a blunt, hearty, plain-spoken type – nonetheless does a fine job of playing him, establishing the requisite chemistry with Henderson and convincingly registering frowning disapproval of some of the more eccentric guests, particularly flamboyant young Christopher Wren (Everett Shea).
Shea's performance as Wren is quite delightful, easily winning over the audience with Christopher's delicate sensibilities, ardent aestheticism and macabre sense of humour – as well as revealing his underlying agitation – without ever resorting to caricature.
Lori Tych, fresh from a well-deserved Theatre B.C. Mainstage best actress win as Eleanor of Aquitaine in White Rock Players Club's The Lion In Winter, has a field day as the "mannish" Miss Casewell, investing her with a wicked sense of fun and an undisguised contempt for authority, while scoring her share of laughs with a distinctively explosive brand of jocularity.
Sam Gordon is – and has – a great deal of fun as the dodgy Mr. Paravicini, who shows up unexpectedly at Monkswell when his car gets stuck in a snowbank. His performance is a romp of extravagant accent, flirtatious glances (at Mollie) and impish reactions. But the shaved head and goatee he sports evokes 2012 more than 1952 – far too exotic in this context for the kind of character Miss Casewell describes as looking "like a spiv" (period slang for a common black market racketeer).
Deborah Spitz, as endlessly complaining pain-in-the-neck Mrs. Boyle, and Paul Kloegman, as retired military man Major Metcalf, bring their considerable skills to two of the more ordinary characters of the mystery – although, as with all the others, appearances are deceiving.
Spitz does great character work in portraying a miserably conservative, throughly unlikable woman, while Kloegman uses his always-adept way with line and physical gesture to suggest hidden motives beneath the affable exterior of the old soldier.
Olund's set design, set decoration by Patte Rust and Leigh Burton, and a background drop of a snowy landscape by Rust (along with some some well-achieved snow effects) do wonders in evoking a believable Monkswell.
It's too bad that Pat McClean's costume plot – while making a general stab at the place and period – mixes eras and presents a few singularly odd choices; while offering none of the characteristically material-heavy men's suits of the time, and nary a twin set or a cardigan for the ladies.