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INTERVIEW: Helen Clapp on appearing in Britain's longest running show in Malvern

Malvern Editorial 15th Oct, 2014 Updated: 20th Oct, 2016

THE LONGEST running show in British theatre history, The Mousetrap, opened in Malvern this week. Ahead of the curtain raiser Helen Clapp, who plays Mollie Ralston in the thriller, spoke to the Observer.

A country guest house, a bunch of diverse characters and a mysterious murder to solve, Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap certainly has all of the elements for an elaborate game of Cluedo.

Helen said her and her fellow cast members had joked they should really have played the board game in preparation for the show. Her character Mollie finds herself as one of the main players in the plot.

“She’s great, a real joy to play,” said Helen. “She goes through the whole range of emotions, at first she is up beat having just opened this new guest house with her husband but then things go horribly wrong as they do in Agatha Christie stories. Mollie is a real complicated character and a real treat for an actor.”

The play uses a single set at the heart of the country house which has become cut off from the rest of the world by heavy snow. It puts the emphasis straight on to the eight main characters who one by one reveal their sordid pasts until the murderer among them is revealed in the finale.

“There are plenty of twists, turns and red herrings, the play really keeps you guessing,” said Helen. “There is real heart and depth to the characters and they are all risking high stakes. It makes the audience really care for them.”

She added: “It is just a great show and a testament to the writing. A lot of shows these days have a lot of moving parts and scene changes, but this is just a single set with eight characters and yet the audience is absolutely riveted all the way through.

“Agatha Christie is an incredible story-teller who is great at weaving all these characters and plots together.”

It will be the first time the Devon-born actor has trod the boards in Malvern but having recently taken up rock climbing as well as enjoying to keep fit, the hills should provide a pleasant stay for Helen.

The 31-year-old has come full circle with her latest involvement with The Mousetrap, as fresh from learning drama at Birmingham University a few years ago it was the first play she gained work on while plying her trade as an understudy. Helen described how tough the industry could be for those effectively working in the shadows.

“Being an understudy is an incredibly difficult discipline,” she said. “You have to be ready to go on stage at any point without the same level of rehearsal as the main cast.

“You could be waiting on tables one minute, then the next you could be asked to perform. Your life can change overnight.”

Helen was told at 11am one day she would be performing in her first show that evening prompting her parents to jump on a train from Exeter.

She has since been a regular in London’s West End performing in a whole host of shows such as Hamlet and Asylum Monologues.

Having first appeared on stage at the age of four at her parent’s theatre company, Helen said theatre was definitely ‘in the blood’ but she has also done her fair share of TV and film work. The series Me and My Dad which was aimed at young fathers, saw her play a midwife.

Helen said: “With TV the camera sees everything you’re thinking and it’s a case of a few takes and that’s it. With theatre you have the live audience but you get the chance to refine your performance the following night.

“But theatre is also more of an endurance test. You have to be there every night to step on stage regardless of how you are feeling and give a performance for the people who have paid to see the show. Film and TV are more of a sprint.”

Ironically, there has been no more enduring production than The Mousetrap which has run continuously since its debut in 1952 – the longest run in British theatre history.

Its 60th anniversary in 2012 was marked by its 25,000 performance that year.

At the start of its current run in Leeds the cast paid tribute to the late Richard Attenborough who starred in the original West End cast and passed away earlier this year.

“When you think of the people who have performed in the play throughout the years you realise there are big shoes to fill,” Helen said.

“It’s an absolute privilege to be a part of history.” she added.

The Mousetrap runs until Saturday, October 18 at Malvern Theatres. Call box office on 01684 892277.

 

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