HIGHLAND — Agatha Christie‘s The Mousetrap, presented by the Highland City Arts Council, is a fun and exciting murder mystery just in time for Halloween.  The show is family friendly, but possibly frightening for very young children.

Directed by Gabriel Spencer, The Mousetrap is a classic whodunit murder mystery. Because it’s an Agatha Christie story, all of the characters are neurotic and they all have something to hide. There are eight characters in the play and every one of them could be the the murderer. As new evidence is found, one by one each of the characters fall under suspicion. As is tradition with this play, the audience is sworn to secrecy and asked not to reveal the ending to anyone who hasn’t seen the play.

Spencer created a coherent ensemble of actors of varying ages who worked well together. There was occasionally unmotivated blocking when a character would walk across the stage for no reason, but for the most part the movement of the characters and usage of the space made sense and were easy to follow. Spence created a first act that was faced-paced, interesting, and quite funny at times. However, during the second act there were several missed cues and forgotten lines, which dragged down the pacing of the play quite a bit.  The climax of action and resolution happened very suddenly which was rather jarring, which fit well with the play.  If that jolting end had been paired with a quickly moving second act it would have been perfect.

Nicole Allen and Jake Allen, who are married in real life, play newlywed couple Mollie and Giles Ralston, but the excitement of a new relationship was missing and they felt like a couple who has been together for much longer. They were very comfortable and worked well together, but a touch more excitement and affection would have given their stage relationship that new-adventure-together feel. Kathy Castleton played a hilarious Mrs. Boyle, the stuffy upper-class lady with no tolerance for shenanigans or imperfect housekeeping. Castleton stole the show with her derisive sideways glances and her disapproving huffs. She was so brilliantly in character that when she knocked down a set piece she improvised it perfectly into her character. This was Castleton’s fist show in many years, and I hope I get to see her in many more roles in the future.

The play is set in England and the cast attempts various versions of an English accent, (and one Italian accent) with varying degrees of success, ranging from sounding nearly British to sounding completely American. It was distracting at times, and it might have been better to either have a dialect coach or completely avoid any attempts at an accent.

The costumes and set were designed collectively by the cast and they did an excellent job. The furniture and wall hangings are conducive to the 1950’s atmosphere without calling too much attention to itself. The stage is set diagonally in the corner of the upstairs room of the Highland City Center, and as the audience enters the mood is set with eerie music, ghostly red light, a fire in the fireplace on stage, and heavy special effect smoke. The smoke never completely clears from the room, so theatre-goers with respiratory issues should attend with caution. During the second act the room got very cold, and whether that was chance or a directional choice, it greatly added to the scary mood of finding a killer. The diagonal stage was the perfect space for a murder mystery because it’s always a little uncomfortable.  The actors used the space very naturally and were unaffected by their triangular stage, but sitting at an angle in the room creates a twisting sense of unbalance for the audience.  Perfect for hunting a murderer!

The Mousetrap at the Highland City Arts Council was an enjoyable arts council production that is an affordable and enjoyable Halloween activity for the family.

The Highland City Arts Council production of The Mousetrap runs nightly (except October 25) at 7:30 PM, and at 10 PM on October 31 (which is a performance that will reveal the murderer at midnight) at the Highland City Center (5378 W. 10400 N., Highland). Tickets $8-10. For more information, visit www.highlandcityarts.org.