A good murder mystery captivates audience members as it weaves a web of intrigue and suspense, asking them to put the clues together and keep guessing until the final revelation. No one mastered the art of crafting those wickedly fun stories better than the Queen of Mystery, Agatha Christie.
Dame Agatha Christie is one of the most prolific and beloved authors in history. With 74 novels, 164 short stories and 16 stage plays, she pioneered detective stories and hooked readers and audiences with intricately crafted mysteries. It is estimated that she has sold more than 2 billion copies of her books – only The Bible and the works of William Shakespeare have sold more.
The Mousetrap is her most enduring stage play. It opened in 1952 on London’s West End and ran continuously until the global pandemic put a temporary stop to it in 2020. The play has been performed in London more than 27,500 times.
For the theatre artists putting together FIU’s production, working on an Agatha Christie mystery is next-level fun.
“We have the bonus of knowing how it ends, so part of the fun is weaving through the storyline to give just enough of a taste of some hints here and there that lead the audience in the right direction and sometimes in the wrong direction,” says the play’s director Justin Packard. “The challenge for us as storytellers is to keep the momentum going and keep the audience guessing, not being too obvious, but also not too discrete.”
The play is set in Monkswell Manor, a remote guest house in the England countryside, amid a huge snowstorm. As the play begins, the guests begin to arrive and settle in. In true Agatha Christie fashion, they are a collection of eccentric and, at turns, suspicious characters.
As news spreads about a murder in London, a police sergeant arrives and reveals the shocking news that there is reason to believe that the killer they are searching for is among them. This sets off the investigation, with Sergeant Trotter serving as the audience’s eyes and ears, unearthing clues and putting together the pieces before the killer can strike again.
For the cast of student actors, the story provides an exciting set of challenges.
“The fun part is trying to manage the audience’s expectations,” says Richard Weber, who plays Sergeant Trotter. “In a murder mystery, every little thing we do leaves an imprint on the audience. It’s on us, the actors and the director, to get that dynamic where everybody is suspicious but no one is the murderer at the same time.”
Weber is a sophomore in the theatre department’s brand new BFA in musical theatre program. Students in the program receive a well-rounded education and training that includes performing in non-musicals as well.
“Working on this play has helped me really dig into the fundamentals of acting,” says Weber. “With musicals you have so much else you’re having to rely on, the singing and the dancing. But plays are like a stripped-down version of that. It makes me realize how important objectives are to everything an actor does. When I go back to doing a musical, I can then add everything else back on while still focusing on the fundamentals.”
FIU’s production of The Mousetrap also features stunning work by an all-faculty design team. The show’s costume designer, Marina Pareja, jumped at the opportunity to work on the iconic murder mystery.
“I’m a big Agatha Christie fan!” says Pareja. “One of the masteries of Agatha Christie is how she distracts you. I think everything can be a clue or a misdirection. Even the costumes! Yes, there are clues in the costumes in this show, but I can’t tell you what they are, because that would ruin the fun.”
If seeing The Mousetrap once is a delight, a repeat viewing is even more satisfying because you now see what is an actual clue and what is simply misdirection.
“I think there’s immense value of having the experience of seeing the play when you’re in the know,” says Packard. “You can trace the hints along the way to see where you may have been led astray before, but also see the clues that were there all along.”