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Thursday August 29, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Thursday August 29, 2013 MYT 7:30:44 AM
by rouwen lin
Sinister undercurrents: All is not what it seems in 'The Mousetrap', which is perhaps one reason the play has been running for 60 years. This publicity shot shows the main characters, Mrs Boyle, Christopher Wren and Major Metcalf (right). – Photos from British Theatre Playhouse
Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, an intriguing whodunit on stage, will be making its rounds in this region.
IN the dead of winter, seven people are trapped by a snowstorm in a remote country guesthouse somewhere in the English countryside. The fire burning cheerily in Monkswell Manor’s fireplace does little to brighten the mood of the guests who are stuck until help arrives. If they survive the night, that is. There’s a murderer on the loose, you see, and he – or she – is among them; hiding in plain sight and waiting for the right time to strike.
When prolific crime writer Agatha Christie (1890-1976) wrote the play The Mousetrap in 1952, she predicted that this murder mystery would run for a modest eight months in London’s West End. It was originally written as a 30-minute radio play for the late Queen Mary’s 80th birthday, as she had requested for something new from Christie. Initially entitled Three Blind Mice, it eventually came to be called The Mousetrap.
Eight months was hardly accurate. This play went on to become the world’s longest running show, clocking in its 25,000th performance in November last year. And it’s still going strong. Christie probably never imagined how wrong she would be with her prediction!
The Mousetrap is now being staged on different continents around the world in commemoration of its diamond anniversary. Close to home, the play will be produced in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand by the British Theatre Playhouse (BTP), a Singapore/London-based company that stages British productions in this region with artistes from Britain. BTP is collaborating with local event company Milestone Production on this leg.
John Faulkner, who co-founded BTP with wife Cecelia Leong, says he is delighted to bring The Mousetrap to our shores, describing it as “one hell of a thriller, very well-written, with a wonderfully tight plot and a great twist at the end.”
“It’s funny how if you say a play has a murder, people smile. They lick their lips when you say it is a murder mystery. People just love a good murder mystery, they love a good whodunit,” Faulkner says during a chat when he was down in Kuala Lumpur recently.
Faulkner and this play go way back: In 1984, he took on the role of the charismatic Giles Ralston, who runs the guesthouse with his wife, Mollie. This year, Faulkner returns in this South-East Asian premiere as Major Metcalf, a retired army man who is “the oldest character in the play”.
“You don’t have such an opportunity very often – first playing a young man and then an older man in the same play. I’m really very pleased about it, it’s really exciting,” the affable actor says.
Faulkner’s involvement with the show is a bit of a family tradition. His parents watched it, then he watched it, and then later acted it in during its 32nd year. His son saw it in a theatre last year, and this year, Faulkner is coming back to play another character in the play.
“It’s handed down from generation to generation!” he points out. “What is terribly depressing,” he adds with a laugh, “is when you look at the photographs from almost 30 years ago, and go, ‘What happened?’ It’s terrible; all I see of myself are all these lines and bags!”
This production of The Mousetrap boasts an all-British cast put together especially for this occasion. All are West End actors, and six out of the eight actors have been in the West End production of the play at one time or another.
Production director Denise Silvey, of Mousetrap Productions Ltd, says in a press release, “We are thrilled and honoured to be bringing this little piece of British history to Malaysia as part of our 60th anniversary celebration. The magical storytelling of Agatha Christie lives on in this witty and scary tale of intrigue and murder.”
Based on the real-life story of a boy who was abused (and died) while in the care of his foster parents, The Mousetrap, for all its delightful mystery and intrigue, also explores the sombre issue of child abuse.
Faulkner cannot stress enough the historical significance and nostalgia that comes with this play.
“When you walk on stage to perform, you have to be completely insensitive not to feel the history of the play. I can’t think of any other play that has survived the test of time from the 1950s,” he says.
Despite being around for the past six decades, the twist in the ending has largely been kept under wraps. The audience is traditionally asked by the lead actor at the end of the show to not reveal the identity of the killer to people outside the theatre.
Of course, it’s not difficult to find out the ending now – it’s a mere click of a mouse away. But for those who would like to enjoy the play as the writer intended, do refrain from reading up on the ending. Christie herself was reportedly always upset whenever crucial details from the play were revealed in reviews.
Theatre enthusiasts and fans of Christie will be pleased to note that this production of The Mousetrap, in keeping with tradition (and strict instructions from the Agatha Christie estate!), will stay true to its origins.
When asked whether this means the play will be pretty much unchanged from when it was first staged six decades ago, Faulkner replies, “Absolutely. The Agatha Christie estate is extremely strict about the manner in which the show is staged, who is allowed to stage it, and how it is done. “
He relates that the set has to be as near as possible to the original design of the West End set, the costumes have to be kept to the same style, and the characterisations cannot be changed. Also, the play is not allowed to be done as dinner theatre.
“All these being more or less unchanged is part of its charm, really, because with The Mousetrap, what you are seeing is a piece of history. It’s a timeless play, and to try and ‘update’ it would be ridiculous and wrong,” Faulkner insists.
No film production of the play is allowed to be made until six months after the West End production closes. As such, it looks like a movie adaptation might be a long time coming!
“No one saw this extraordinary phenomenon happening, that The Mousetrap would run for so long. I can see it going on for 100 years – I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens,” Faulkner says.
The Mousetrap will be staged at the Dewan Bandaraya Auditorium, Menara DBKL, Jalan Raja Laut, Kuala Lumpur, from Oct 16 to 20 at 8pm daily, with a matinee show at 3pm on Oct 19. Tickets are priced between RM80 and RM380. For more information, visit milestone-production.com.
Call 03-9222 8811 or visit www.ticketcharge.com.my for ticket purchase. Ticket Charge is offering a 10% early-bird price till this Saturday. Borders bookstores in Malaysia will be running activities in conjunction with the staging of The Mousetrap; check facebook.com/bordersmalaysia for updates.
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Lifestyle, Lifestyle, The Mousetrap, Agatha Christie, John Faulkner, British Theatre Playhouse, Kuala Lumpur
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