PATRICK MARMION reviews The Mousetrap

The stage is set (at last!) for murder most cheesy: PATRICK MARMION reviews The Mousetrap

The Mousetrap (St Martin’s, London)

Rating:

Verdict: Creaky but kind of fun

Love Letters (Theatre Royal, Haymarket) 

Rating:

Verdict: Touching romance

April in Paris (touring) 

Rating:

Verdict: Good Godber

The first show to open in London this week was also the first to close in March last year: The Mousetrap.

And in the intervening period, Agatha Christie’s doddery, 68-year-old country house murder mystery has been given a shot — a shot of Botox! — by director Ian Talbot.

The former boss of Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre has secured a cast of genuinely lively young actors, alongside celebrity stalwarts such as Derek Griffiths and Susan Penhaligon, to breathe new life into the wobbly oak panelling, dusty sofa and clattery mullioned windows.

The pleasure, though, remains in marvelling that living humans might once have taken the snowbound suspects in Berkshire’s Monkswell Manor Guest House seriously.

Susan Penhaligon (Mrs Boyle) and Alexander Wolfe (Christopher Wren) in The Mousetrap

Penhaligon is a particularly acute example, as tweedy old biddy Mrs Boyle, who everyone would like to throttle. And what of Griffiths? A stuffy codger who looks like he reeks of tobacco and eau de second-hand bookshop.

Talbot has sought to lift the energy by casting two fine musical theatre actors as the newlywed owners of the guest house — Cassidy Janson, who as the worried wife gets to show off her terrific scream; and Danny Mac, who as her handsome hubby gets to show off his 100-watt twinkle.

There’s also a masterclass in ham acting from David Rintoul, as Mr Paravicini — a breathless Italian interloper who sings opera as if auditioning for the Go Compare ad. But Paul Hilliar gives him a run for his money as the dogged detective who arrives on skis.

The secret of The Mousetrap’s enduring success is that it knows itself to be 24-carat nonsense.

A scene from The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie @ St Martin’s Theatre directed by Ian Talbot

And if you don’t mind paying £20-£100 a head for that, it is reassuringly silly fun.

Next up in the West End this week was A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters — a romance, told in letters exchanged over 50 years, between fictional wealthy New Yorkers Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and Melissa Gardner.

It’s a play that requires nothing more than for two actors to park their behinds and read aloud; and as a result, since its 1989 premiere, it has drawn some big names (including Charlton Heston and Elizabeth Taylor — mercifully not together).

This production features a radiant Jenny Seagrove opposite a grizzled Martin Shaw (left).

Their letters start with Andy recalling how he spied on Melissa in the bath house when they were kids.

But they never quite get it together. He joins the Navy and becomes a Republican senator. She blows through boys and booze, and struggles to make it as an artist.

Shaw is persuasive as the Ivy League Republican who still has a cuddly boyishness about him.

Seagrove keeps him honest, with verbal roastings, while also finding pathos, as alcohol gets the better of her mental health.

Coventry’s bright new Belgrade was technically the first theatre to open in the UK, with Joe Pasquale and Sarah Earnshaw starring in a revival of John Godber’s comedy April In Paris

By the end, you could swear these two are real people (though they’re not). And that’s thanks to the amazing chemistry between the actors who, like Andy and Melissa, seem made for each other.

Coventry’s bright new Belgrade was technically the first theatre to open in the UK this week, with Joe Pasquale and Sarah Earnshaw starring in a touring revival of John Godber’s 1992 comedy April In Paris (now in Hull until tomorrow).

The play is about a bickering couple who win a trip to Paris. Pasquale’s pie and curry-loving Al would rather stay home.

But Earnshaw ignites his dormant alpha male by dancing with a Dutch boy on the ferry, and later frogmarches him (pardon the pun) into the Louvre.

It’s a low-budget production, featuring just a bicycle, a string of garlic — and French flag screens for a set. But it’s faultlessly genial, with good gags and two warm-hearted characters.

To Covent Garden, Come hell or high water…

By Tully Potter 

La Clemenza Di Tito (Royal Opera)

Verdict: Keep your eyes closed and all is well

Rating:

Opera lovers will go through hell for their passion. The 800 hardy socially-distanced souls who attended Covent Garden’s long-awaited reopening had to cope with a London thunderstorm and a naff production but were still cheering at the end.

Music from Mozart’s last year provided ample balm, as the singing was mostly excellent, the orchestral wind players rose to their many challenges and the conducting of Mark Wigglesworth, while sometimes uncertain as to tempo, achieved some eloquence.

Emperor Titus ruled Rome for just two years but was proverbial for his clemency. 

Titus’s main unsuspected adversary is Vitellia (played by Nicole Chevalier, pictured left, with Emily D’Angelo as Sesto), whose music really demands a contralto with an upward extension

Aided by a ‘libretto doctor’, Caterino Mazzola, Mozart tightened up Metastasio’s unwieldy text into a fast-moving opera seria lasting just two hours.

The work used to be messed about but since the 1970s has been well done here.

Lithuanian tenor Edgaras Montvidas, a former member of the Young Artists Programme at the ROH, has matured into a considerable artist: he handled his often difficult music with skill, intensity and beautiful tone.

Titus’s main unsuspected adversary is Vitellia, whose music really demands a contralto with an upward extension.

Nicole Chevalier had the bite but not the range — her big aria, in which our own Louise Kirkby Lunn and Janet Baker shone in bygone years, exposed her lack of a lower register.

Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito is performed at the Roya Opera House in Covent Garden, London

Fellow American Emily d’Angelo was much more successful as Sextus, whom she bullies into trying to murder Titus.

I also enjoyed the singing of mezzo Angela Brower (from Arizona) and Austrian soprano Christina Gansch as lovers Annius and Servilia: their gorgeous duet, while fractionally too fast, came across well.

Richard Jones’s footling modern-dress production is confusing, with a lot of running around and writhing about.

The bass character Publius (Joshua Bloom) is accompanied everywhere by two old geezers in suits who look like undertaker’s mutes. Costumes and designs are cheap and nasty.

Tonight’s performance is streamed live (stream.roh.org.uk).

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