Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Mousetrap – A Near Death Experience at The Q

The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie presented by Queanbeyan City Council. Directed by Jordan Best at Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, March 7-24, 2012.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
March 7

This is a misconceived production of a play which, despite its 60 years of continuous performance in London, is essentially a farce. It certainly got some laughs on opening night, despite the director’s apparent intention from her Director’s Notes that we should have been scared and spooked by ‘a cracker of a mystery’.

Christie’s crime fiction consists of nothing but artifice – an artificial plot on which is hung artificial characters with motivations which have nothing to do with psychological truth. Her stories are interesting as games, working out possible directions to take in a maze which has already been predetermined by the designer. The more unexpected twists and turns in the design, the more fun it is to play the game. But that’s all there is to it.

Best, unfortunately, despite her professional training and previous excellent productions, has missed the point here. Naturalistic playing of these characters is boring because it is the wrong style for this type of play. The cast worked hard, but only Jim Adamik’s over-the-top Mr Paravicini and to some extent Brendan Kelly’s Christopher Wren had the exaggerated characteristics a farce requires.

The director’s decision to place the play in Australia (with such a blizzard in, presumably, Katoomba, that would cheer the cockles of a climate skeptic’s heart) compounded her problem. This play is quintessentially English, filled with stock characters, stock references to the weather and places like Majorca, and entirely in the style of English farces of its day, the 1950s before rock’n’roll, such as those by William Douglas Home who, like Agatha Christie, looked back with some kind of sentimental awe to the hey-day of English culture – the 1930s. Australia was never like this.

Mind you, it is true that my first acting role, in Australia in 1963, was as an upper-class twit in Home’s 1956 play The Reluctant Debutante. No-one, but no-one, would bother to present that even in a country town today, and presenting The Mousetrap could only work if it was made thoroughly absurdist – a spoof of the very crime fiction it represents. When you consider what we watch on tv nowadays – Silent Witness for example – the idea that we might be scared or spooked by the ‘horrors’ of The Mousetrap is the ultimate absurdity.

I would like to praise the set design (the indomitable Brian Sudding) and construction (Craig Francis and Ian Croker), except for one point – the door that should have creaked, didn’t. There was also a sound problem – almost inherent in the script – when the loud radio drowned out the characters’ voices. We needed to hear what they said because there were clues to the plot in their words.

So The Mousetrap is a disappointment, which is a pity because The Q has presented so much better local productions in recent times, and I hope will do so in the future.

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