Perhaps best known as the longest-running play ever (notching north of 28,000 performances and counting), Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap has been continuously on stage in London’s West End since 1952. Now, the reliably entertaining murder mystery set over a few snowed-in days at the remote (and fictional) Monkswell Manor finds its way to a stage much closer to home. Hyde Park’s Court Theatre presents a vibrant, comical take on this evergreen whodunnit through February 16. Directed by Sean Graney, the ensemble piece set in the “present day” (really, the post-war era of its original premiere) is here infused with bold color choices, whimsical set design and a self-aware sense of humor throughout that make the whole thing feel fresh and fun.
Having newly inherited her aunt’s manor 30 miles outside of London, Mollie Ralston (Kate Fry) has converted it into a bed and breakfast with her husband, Giles (Allen Gilmore), and as the show opens, the couple are expecting their first guests. In a parade of primary colors (clever costuming by Alison Siple), we meet the boyish Christopher Wren (Alex Goodrich), the fussy Mrs. Boyle (Carolyn Ann Hoerdemann), the regimented Major Metcalf (Lyonel Reneau), the staunchly independent Miss Casewell (Tina Muñoz Pandya) and the flamboyant Mr. Paravicini (David Cerda), each decked out in a signature color that, perhaps fittingly, evokes a classic game of Clue. And in due course, the game—as they say—is afoot, with the drama unfolding at an energetic clip as the mystery deepens.
To know more about the show is to ruin the fun; first-time audiences (like me) will do well to avoid things like the show’s Wikipedia page, where the twist ending is revealed without so much as a spoiler alert. In the Court’s intimate space, the tense moments play as well as the funny ones, of which there are many. Fry and Gilmore in particular anchor the narrative’s range, from the obligatory dark and brooding to unexpectedly goofy, while a fairly run-of-the-mill staging (a central fireplace, a stairway up to guest rooms, two side doors leading off into the house) is elevated by sharp pattern selection—the armchair upholstered with black-and-white skulls is a nice touch—and subtly playful wallpaper (set design by Arnel Sancianco).
A show like The Mousetrap is a mainstay not because it is some timeless Shakespearean masterpiece; though certainly sharp-witted and smart, there aren’t exactly any underlying, complicated themes to Christie’s story. Instead, it’s still performed both on the West End and around the world nearly 70 years after it premiered because it’s a perfectly entertaining night at the theater, not an off-color joke or dated reference to be found (updates help; there’s no smoking here, as Christie’s original script calls for). And with its mystery intact (here as in London, theater-goers are asked as they leave not to spoil the ending for others), you’ll be engaged till the very end. With no shortage of dark drama and misery in real life, a bit of the non-controversial, light-hearted sort in The Mousetrap, especially in a production so delightfully enjoyable as this one, is an altogether lovely way to spend an evening.