In Department of Theatre and Media Arts, Theatre

The BYU theatre department breathes fresh life into the murder mystery

The BYU theatre department presents a classic Halloween offering when “The Mousetrap” opens on Oct. 26.

“The Mousetrap” is one of famed mystery writer Agatha Christie’s most popular stories, but it holds the additional distinction of being the longest-running play in history. “I think the premise of a murder mystery is always exciting,” said Hannah Gunson-McComb, the show’s dramaturg. “But this one in particular comes with a giant production history. Not only has it surpassed 26,000 performances in London, but it’s done and redone year in and year out.”

Spencer Hunsicker (Giles), Sydney Howell (Mollie), Ian Buckley (Christopher) and Derek Johnson (Detective Trotter) discuss the murder
(Photo by Madeline Mortensen/BYU Photo)

The murder mystery owes its popularity in large part to Christie’s witty humor, use of suspense and cast of characters. “The characters are quirky and weird and fun, and they’re all stuck together and have to deal with each other,” said director David Morgan. “And of course, as in all classic Agatha Christie stories, every single person looks like they could have possibly done it. You don’t trust anybody, and the last reveal is a real twist.”

While the show benefits from a well-regarded script, any new production runs the risk of becoming a stale retelling. Morgan has taken great care to make the story feel fresh, keeping more modern audiences in mind.

“Normally I’d be worried about how labored a show like this would be,” Gunson-McComb said. “But working with David Morgan and his efforts to deliver a fresh-faced ‘Mousetrap’ has helped get to the original heart of the show. I think the play itself is timeless because Agatha Christie is so good at writing, but this production is exciting and delicious because of David’s directing.”

Taking on a show that is so beloved and familiar can also be a challenge for actors seeking to bring something new to the classic, but the cast, led by Sydney Howell and Spencer Hunsicker as Mollie and Giles Ralston, was up for the challenge.

Sydney Howell (Mollie) and Ian Buckley (Christopher) in “The Mousetrap” (Photo by Madeline Mortensen/BYU Photo)

“All the actors in the show are strong, and they’ve been great to work with,” said Morgan. “I’m very much in favor of collaborating with the actors and hopefully letting them come up with a lot of the ideas rather than dictating to them what they have to do or where they have to go. They’ve been able to find the performances themselves, so a lot of what people are going to see is what the cast came up with.”

As per “Mousetrap” tradition, audiences are asked to keep the conclusion of the mystery a secret. “That’s part of what makes it fun,” Morgan explained. “I can guess that at least a third or so of the audience already knows what the ending is, but it’s fun to go see it again and take someone who doesn’t know and watch their reactions.”

The thrills and surprises of the play make it a perfect fit for audiences looking to celebrate the Halloween season. “I think we’re always looking for a good way to get spooky without needing therapy later as a result of our thrill-seeking,” said Gunson-McComb. “When you have a holiday dedicated to the creepy and the eerie, nothing makes you feel cosier than to know there’s a bunch of fun characters dealing with a murderer in their midst and you’re separated from it all by a very thick fourth wall.”

“It’s something I think that audiences will like, especially this time of the year when it’s more of a look at the darker side of human nature,” added Morgan. “It’s perfect for Halloween. It’s not too dark, not too disgusting or gross, but it’s a fun, scary piece.”

“The Mousetrap” runs in the Pardoe Theatre in the Harris Fine Arts Center Oct. 26-27, 31, Nov. 1-3 and 6-10 at 7:30 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinees on Oct. 27 and Nov. 3. Tickets are available in person at the BYU Ticket Office in the HFAC or Marriott Center, by phone at 801.422.2981 or online at byuarts.com.  

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