The Mousetrap at Glasgow's Theatre Royal keeps audiences guessing

As Kenny Rodgers knew only too well, you've got to know when to hold 'em, and know when to fold 'em. And no one applied this bluffer's logic more expertly (and more consistently) in crime fiction than Agatha Christie.

Nowhere more so than in one of her most popular, and enduring, whodunnits, stage sensation The Mousetrap, which celebrates it's Diamond jubilee this year with its first ever UK tour.

The show first premiered in Nottingham in 1952 before transferring to London. Christie's expectatons at the time were modest, the doyenne of British crime fiction expecting her murder mystery thriller to survive at best an eight month run.

Instead, after racking up more than 25,000 performances in London's West End, The Mousetrap has become the longest running show of any kind in Britsh theatre history.

Judging by the enthusiasm that has greeted its first appearance outwith the UK capital for six decades, that success shows no signs of slowing down, even if, by today's theatre standards, it is something of an cosy old fossil locked in its own time warp. The Mousetrap doesn't do faddish makeovers, and what you see is exactly what you would have seen back in the 1950s. A period piece then, but one whose invention (if not shock horror) remains intact.

One of the show's charms over all these years resides in the more or less uniformly abided by oath of omerta undertaken by the audience at play's end at the request of the cast, not to reveal "whodunnit"?

And I have to say, in an age of spoiler alerts, me and the companion who chummed me along, felt both a thrilling frisson in not knowing the end, and also a steely determination not to ruin it for others by revealing it once the guessing game we had enjoyed throughout came to an end.

As for the plot and production itself, The Mousetrap is essentially a giant game of Cluedo, set in a snowed in country guest house where a disparate group of stiff upper lip types and archetypes who may, or may not, be what they seem have gathered together.

Back in London, a murder tied in with case of child abuse has been committed, and it’s believed the killer is headed for the guest house to finish what they've started.

But who is the target? Newlywed owners Mollie and Giles Ralston, (Jemma Walker and Corrie's Bruno Langley); bossy boots Mrs Boyle; Karl Howman's shady foreigner, Mr Paravicini; Major Metcalf; effete architect Christopher Wren; the mannish Miss Casewell?

And, more importantly, who is the murderer among the characters gathered on stage that Detective Sergeant Trotter is charged with trying to apprehend, while any number of red herrings bob along throughout the evening.

Pressed as to the reasons behind The Mousetrap's enduring popularity, Christie was of the opinion that: "It is the sort of play you can take anyone to. It's not really frightening. It's not really horrible. It's not really a farce, but it has a little bit of all those things and perhaps that satisfies a lot of different people."

As explanations go it's not a bad assessment. It's even less frightening and less horrible now, and the farce has a double edged tongue in cheekness about it seen from a modern perspective. But it is still hugely entertaining, thanks in no small measure to a fine ensemble cast (in particular Howman, pictured), entering into the spirit of the piece with gusto, but and also a determination not to undermine it by playing it as mummified panto..

The Mousetrap, Theatre Royal, Glasgow until Sat. Tel: 0844 71 7637

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