The Mousetrap/Malvern Theatres

IF only real-life murder could be so civilised… no ghastly bludgeonings to death, no senseless stabbings, no robberies that go badly wrong. If only.

But of course, Agatha Christie didn’t do real life. Even back in 1952, when she wrote The Mousetrap, homicide was – contrary to what she would have you believe – a fairly similar squalid act to how it is today, mainly an unpremeditated affair in which one human being snuffs out the life of a fellow creature.

And that’s why we have to suspend all reality once we have slipped into the warm, comforting bath that constitutes a Christie murder story.

The action takes place in a guest house that has become cut off from the outside world by heavy snow. There is already tension in the air, a heaviness that is only intensified when a policeman arrives in hot pursuit of a killer he believes is linked to the people in the house.

Director Gareth Armstrong ensures the suspense never lets up for a single second. Susan Penhaligon booms and trumpets along as the upper class and thoroughly irritating Mrs Boyle, David Alcock is your textbook Johnny Foreigner, and John Griffiths salutes and ticks every box as the hopelessly harrumphing stereotypical army major.

Elsewhere, young marrieds Harriet Hare and Nick Biadon talk to each other as if they’ve just walked off the set of a 1950s Oxo advert, while Lewis Chandler turns his Christopher Wren character into a camper-than-camp cross between Julian Clary and Corrie barman Sean Tully.

Then there’s Saskia Vaigncourt-Strallen as the mysterious Miss Casewell… just what IS her game, guvnor?

Yes, don’t we love all this glorious absurdity. And perhaps best of all is Geoff Arnold as arch inquisitor Sergeant Trotter, who’s more Cockney than a spilled lorry-load of jellied eels and certainly twice as slippery.

The Mousetrap runs until Saturday (July 20).

John Phillpott