High expectations surround The Mousetrap.
It's inevitable, given that it's the record holder for the world's longest-running consecutive play. The West End production of Agatha Christie's play has been performed more than 25,000 times since it's premiered in 1952 and is now in Auckland for the start of a national tour.
It may seem unfair to judge something against its longevity but that and the writer are the main selling points here; you go wanting to know why exactly it has been so successful and just how the mystery compares to Christie's other work.
The play centres around Monskwell Manor, a guest house an hour outside London that's set to open its doors for the first time. All seems fine as the guests arrive one-by-one, even if each one brings their own set of quirks that clash with fellow visitors. Yet as the snow builds up around the house, the animosity grows inside and the guests and hosts pick sides in a battle of personalities.
The hallmarks of Christie's work shine throughout: there's plenty of suspicious behaviour, red herrings, potential foreshadowing and tightly woven backstories to keep audiences intrigued and mystified before we even know what the crime is.
That particular mystery revolves a murder in London the day our story began; the police believe that someone staying at Monkswell Manor is the killer's next victim. Christie paints every character as a suspect but she does so lightly, not letting the shroud of suspicion dilute any one person too overtly. It means everyone remains on an even playing field.
But while Christie wants us to keep guessing, she subverts expectations with a surprisingly light-hearted and often quite humorous script. Some of the dialogue comes across as a little hokey after 60 years but, by contrast, characters like the camp Christopher Wren and the stoic Miss Casewell feel well ahead of their time.
That may be where the influence of this South African-born production lies. Matthew Lotter brings out the depth in Wren's often fatuous character but Melissa Haiden, as Mrs Ralston, steals the show having to hold much of what happens together.
Yet while we can all appreciate a tidy set and moody lighting, it's Christie and her mystery that we're here for. The Mousetrap is a slow-burner that keeps you guessing well until the final minutes and the final reveal generates a ripple of gasps through the crowd. Read as little about the play as you can, go in with an empty but suspicious mind and quickly see why the drama has more than earned its place in the history books.
What: The Mousetrap
Where: ASB Waterfront Theatre, until April 14th
Reviewed by: Ethan Sills