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Stage: The Mousetrap
Salisbury's Lee St. Theatre sticks to a genre - the thriller - that has earned them success this year, giving Cate Jo's Mollie Ralston a chance to shine.
Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap debuted in London in 1952. With nearly 29,000 West End performances, it is the longest running play anywhere by quite a margin. Its historic run has only been interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lee Street Theatre takes up this familiar murder mystery and dives headfirst into the genre again. Thrillers at Lee Street have proven to be worth the trip to Salisbury, and despite questionable casting decisions, this continues to be the case with The Mousetrap.
Set at a recently-opened boarding house outside of London, guests are just arriving as owners Mollie and Giles Ralston nervously anticipate the first night of running a small hotel. A terrible snowstorm cuts Monkswell Manor and its inhabitants off from the rest of the world, setting the scene for a murder mystery.
Rod Oden’s design in set, sound, and lighting establish a suspenseful and disjointed atmosphere essential to the tone of this classic whodunnit. A lightning sequence at the very beginning reveals first, in flashes, a menacing silhouette in the window.
Then, suddenly, the entire cast seated in tableau.
Then, no one.
The radio operates in tandem with the action on stage. The boarding house set, whose mysterious offstage passageways are central to the plot, deconstructs at the fringes, beams and studs protruding from the edge of the finished interior. At the left and right sides of the stage, the audience must peer in at the action through empty picture frames and windows, suspended in air where the walls should be.
David T. Loudermilk’s direction joins the production design here, rife with fun decisions. Red herring moments (which by Christie’s design are a dime a dozen) arouse suspicion for every character. During the cliffhanger intermission, the actors continue to pantomime on stage after the lights have come up. For those who are up to it, the actors have been given permission to lean in heavily with the centers of their characters on full display.
No one is more off-leash than Brayden Daugherty. His foppish and eccentric Christopher Wren recalls some of the most zany turns from Matt Smith’s Doctor Who, with a rather more gothic slant. He relishes the conventions of the genre with sinister laughs and mercurial tonal pivots familiar to any audience. Daugherty’s adherence to form is grounding despite all his wild physics.
In terms of heavy lifting, the ensemble is lopsided. Several members of the cast remain one-note throughout despite their best efforts, but due in part to Jacquelyn Loy’s period costuming and Christie’s script they serve their purpose well enough.
Because of the expert work of Cate Jo, this imbalance can be overlooked.
Radiant and intentional, Jo anchors both the story and the production as Mollie Ralston, who owns Monkwell Manor with her husband Giles. Ralston must navigate the various difficulties of housing a gaggle of strangers under harrowing circumstances. With disarming charm Jo expertly broadcasts the worry and secrets concealed beneath the welcoming disposition of a good host.
John Britt’s performance as Giles Ralston supports Jo with great care as suspicion begins to simmer between every character on stage. Christie gives Giles’s development a significantly more measured pace than anyone else’s, and Britt does not mind taking his time. As the show progresses, it becomes clear that Lee Street’s Mousetrap is a vehicle for the slow burn arc unfolding between Britt and Jo.
Along with a solid and rewarding performance from Dan Grogan as Detective Sergeant Trotter, the core of the Lee Street cast keeps the audience mesmerized and uncertain until the last minutes of the show.
There are still tickets to see Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap this weekend at Lee Street Theatre in Salisbury on the following dates:
Friday, August 25 at 7:30 PM
Saturday, August 26 at 7:30 PM
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