Tag Archives: Susan Penhaligan

“The Mousetrap” at the St Martin’s Theatre

It feels appropriate that the first big show to reopen after lockdown is the West End’s longest running. After a hiatus in its record-breaking 68-year run, Agatha Christie’s whodunit is back in fine form and with a new idea – two casts are taking turns to perform the show. I enjoyed it so much that I might see both.

The Mousetrap is one show where any plot spoiler would be unforgiveable… more on that later. And the murder mystery’s success speaks for itself – the story is excellent. But it should be stressed that the new cast I saw are superb. Under Ian Talbot’s direction, Cassidy Janson and Danny Mac take the leads as the Ralstons, steering the action and adding to the drama. Meanwhile visitors at the suitably isolated Monkswell Manor are impeccably performed by Alexander Wolfe, Susan Penhaligon, Derek Griffiths, Lizzie Muncey, David Rintoul and Paul Hilliar. 

We are used to enjoying Christie adaptations, but her biggest hit reminds us what a solid playwright she could be. We know the plotting is unparalleled and accept the characterisation falls short. But it is a pleasant surprise to be reminded that the show is, quite simply, perfect light entertainment.

The Mousetrap knows it is funny. Although maybe not written to be giggled over in quite the way a modern audience can do, there is plenty of wit here. Christie and the cast play with the stock characters setting up our suspicions. And staging the manor house genre is neatly served by the all the comings and goings. Expectations are masterfully played with – consider the joke that a post-war lack of servants means there isn’t a butler in sight.

Meanwhile, characters remind us we can take The Mousetrap seriously – should we wish. Indeed, the insistence that we could do so is the one thing that slows the show down after the interval. Glimpses into a painful motive for murder carry weight and are unveiled with care. And the final revelation still provides a shock, even if it isn’t one of Christie’s best.

Playing with its audience in a manner that might strike you as surprisingly knowing, it’s worth remembering that back in 1952 Christie and her genre were firmly established. Theatre goers then and now know the rules of this game and love it. The final address to the audience – after the curtain – calls for us all to keep the secret of the play. The confirmation of complicity with an audience is always welcome and, after such a long break, moving. It’s my favourite part of the show!


“Hindle Wakes” at the Finborough Theatre

The Finborough Theatre continues its justly acclaimed tradition of revivals with a centenary production of Stanley Houghton’s Hindle Wakes. Revolving around an affair that occurs during a Bank Holiday for Lancashire Mill workers, and the ensuing arguments among the parents of the couple who have played away, in Llandudno of all places, the play is a tightly constructed satire on Edwardian hypocrisy, handled with deft humour by director Bethan Dear.

Above all, Hindle Wakes is funny. The self-righteousness of the parents, determined that their children should (or shouldn’t) marry after making merry, is so unsubtle that the characters run straight into every trap set for them and Dear chooses to play it for broad comedy. There may be some room for reservation when it comes to the younger generation: Fanny, her weekend lover Alan and his fiancée Beatrice seem more engaged with their situation and choose to think about what they, rather than society, really want. But the Victorian generation is easy to parody, so Dear’s approach to go for the laughs makes sense.

The talented cast embraces the comedy marvellously. Peter Ellis and Richard Durden play the fathers with the shared sense of resolving the unfortunate event, and both give excellent renditions of gruff Northern manners. But it’s the female parts that really make Hindle Wakes stand out. The mothers, Anna Carteret and Susan Penhaligan, have meaty roles that they manage impressively without parody. And our heroine Fanny, the plain speaking Lancashire lass, startles and inspires with her frankness. Ellie Turner’s clarity and passion in the role do the character justice – I’d go to Llandudno with her anytime.

Until 29 September 2012


Photo by Claire Bilyard

Written 15 September 2012 for The London Magazine