Fans of whodunits will be excited to hear the Walnut Street Theatre is currently running Agatha Christie’s iconic play “The Mousetrap.” In its 60th anniversary, the world’s longest-running play will be in Philadelphia until March 4.
British writer Agatha Christie, the “Queen of Crime,” is probably best known for her murder mystery novels. However, she put her storytelling abilities to great use for “The Mousetrap.” It is amazing that despite the show’s fame, the story’s ending still comes as a complete surprise for first-time viewers. The plot is based on true events in the case of Dennis O’Neill, a young boy who died in foster care in 1945. The play originated as a radio broadcast commissioned by the BBC for the 80th birthday celebration of Queen Mary. That show, “Three Blind Mice,” eventually became the stage production. Premiering in London’s West End in 1952, the show has never stopped running and, for it’s anniversary, has been licensed worldwide. These 60 international productions, along with the first ever U.K. tour, allow the show to reach a greater audience than ever before. Interestingly, the movie rights, which were purchased in 1956, have the condition that a film version cannot be released until six months after the show closes, meaning we may never see a big-screen adaptation.
A warning to fans of Clue-esque murder mysteries going in with no prior knowledge of the show: “The Mousetrap” is much less comical and slapstick than one might expect. It deals with the many facets of human nature, and while there are certainly moments of comic relief, it has a serious undercurrent.
Despite its setting in the winter of 1952, the story transcends the time period. The references to any historical context are minimal, and the play focuses on the interactions of an unlikely group. The production takes place entirely in the living room of the Monkswell Manor Guest House. Young newlyweds have inherited the house outside of London and have made the choice to open it up to boarders. The show begins as they await the arrival of their first guests. The radio announces a murder in London, and the snowy weather is expected to get worse. It all seems an inauspicious start to their new venture.
The guests include a grumpy spinster who moves around guesthouses, a strange young architect who seems to know little about architecture, a woman just back from traveling abroad, and a retired army major. An odd foreigner without a reservation joins them when his car overturns in a snowdrift. With the intent of keeping the whodunit a surprise, just know the household becomes linked to the earlier murder in London, and everyone is a suspect.
All the action of the play takes place inside the living room, and multiple entrances and exits lead to different parts of the house. Guests are constantly popping up at different doors and sneaking up on one another. The audience is left to imagine the rest of the house and the inner workings that allow the events to unfold as they do. The cast brings great humanity to their roles, and everyone seemed to capture their character spot on. They bring the right amount of comic relief to the often tense, adrenaline-filled moments.
A standout performance comes from the newlyweds, Mollie and Giles Ralston, played by Jennie Eisenhower and Dan Hodge. The events of the evening test their fledgling marriage, but we always believe they love each other and that will be enough. Mollie is ever positive about the success of the guesthouse, and she holds the group together until the end.
“The Mousetrap” is a world-renowned, record-breaking play, and Philadelphia is fortunate to have it at its very own Walnut Street Theatre. With a runtime of two hours and 15 minutes, it makes a great alternative to a movie and will certainly keep audiences on the edge of their seats as much as any big-screen mystery. The show runs until the beginning of March. Ticket and showtime information is available at www.walnutstreettheatre.org.