Three blind mice. See how they run – STAG set to bring Agatha Christie’s classic whodunit, The Mousetrap, to the West End… of Melbourne.
The Mousetrap opened in the West End, London, in 1952. It is the longest running play of the modern era with more than 24,500 performances to date. To celebrate it’s 60th anniversary a limited amount of performing rights were released world wide for the very first time since its run. Only a handful of companies in Victoria were clever enough to take up this potential goldmine for inflating box office sales. STAG was one of those clever companies and, with many performances already sold out, the play continues to entice beyond its West End traditional home.
Director Drew Mason is a die hard Christie fan having read many of the Poirot (the little Belgium detective first created by Christie in 1920) novels. “The Mousetrap is the longest running play in the world and certainly Ms. Christie’s most famous play; to direct this play that very few have been allowed to in Australia is an absolute privilege and to work with such a dedicated cast has been a blessing,” says Mason.
While the play has captivated audiences for 60 years, actors are also drawn by its allure. “I auditioned for The Mousetrap at STAG for two reasons – because of a great liking for Agatha Christie, and because the play is so famous because of its record run in London,” says actor Rod Chappel playing the mysterious retired Army Major. “I have found it a good play with a lot of subtle undertones, which has raised a lot of questions as we have progressed through rehearsals. Preparing my own character, Major Metcalf, has obliged me to think constantly about what Metcalf is actually thinking at each moment of the play but, at the same time, how he wants people to think he is thinking!”
At the auditions, Mason was ‘spoilt for choice’ and what a wonderful position for a director to be in! His final casting decision came down to match ups and choosing a blend of the familiar and the not so familiar. Says Mason: “To cast Kellie Tweeddale (playing Mollie Ralston proprietor of the newly appointed guesthouse, Monkswell Manor) as my anchor actor, once again, (we worked together in Extremities in 2008) has been fantastic. She is a wonderful actor and can lead every actor on the stage with her to churn in an amazing performance.”
Tweeddale has been away from acting for 2 years caring for her young son but is back and has found that the journey through the rehearsal process has cemented her respect for director Mason – I get the feeling that this coupling could produce many more creative works! “Starting a show is always difficult, she says. “ You wonder as an actor how you're going to learn so many lines, how you're going to make sense of everything and how it's all going to come together. Having worked with Drew before, I love his directing style. He provides strong guidance but doesn't over-step the mark of 'taking over'. I have loved finding my feet playing Mollie and taking into consideration the era, the style of play and the type of woman she is.”
Mason did, however, have particular requirements when it came to his auditioning actors. First and foremost was ‘the ability to relate to the other actors.’ As any good actor knows, being able to connect with your acting partner is paramount. “I really like to see which actors can create a relationship on the stage.” explains Mason. “If this happens, I know something wonderful will occur during the rehearsal process. I have never understood the notion of auditioning actors individually for this reason.”
To act in an Agatha Christie can be a challenge. Some consider these plays to be out dated and, in the wrong hands, this kind of play can crash into the awful abyss of melodrama. Hence the easy road to a spoof. Mason’s casting decisions had this very firmly in mind. “Our biggest task has been hitting that Christie style in regards to what is not being said is far more important than what is being said,” explains Mason. “As this notion, and that of the suspicion and fear amongst each of the characters has grown, the play has really taken on a wonderful life. I am anxious to see the final product!"
Tweedale concurs and adds: “Working on my English accent was a challenge in the beginning, as was keeping my character 'real' and not over-acting. The style of Christie's play is such that it would be easy to make her words melodramatic, when in fact they're not.”
The play is also known for its twist ending, which at the end of every performance the audience is asked not to reveal. Mason hopes to keep this tradition alive with his own production so, folks, there will be no spoilers here!
The Mousetrap plays at STAG in Strathmore March 1 – 10
Photos by KT Pearl Photography