Agatha Christie’s 60 year whodunnit arrives in Norwich

The Mousetrap

The Mousetrap - Credit: Archant

Many will remember him as cheeky chappy Jacko from television's Brush Strokes but now Karl Howman is starring in something altogether more sinister. ABIGAIL SALTMARSH asked him about his role in The Mousetrap.

Karl Howman has been on tour with Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap since last autumn but he is still relishing being part of the hit show – and is particularly looking forward to coming to Norfolk.

The thriller arrives at the Theatre Royal, in Norwich, on Monday, April 22, and has already seen such high demand that an extra performance has been added.

'We have seen full houses everywhere we have gone, which has been wonderful. I think it has been because the play has not been out of the West End for 60 years and people are jumping at the chance to see it close to home,' he says.

He continues: 'I can't wait to get to Norfolk – it is somewhere I know really well as I went to school in Colkirk, near Fakenham for a while.

'I was born in London but used to spend my summers in Norfolk with my grandparents and at one point I spent a year there, when my mum was not very well. I still have lots of cousins in the Castle Acre areas – my grandfather was from Swaffham.'

Karl, who is 60, and says his second favourite football team is Norwich City (his first is Charlton Athletic) has returned several times over the years to perform at the Theatre Royal.

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'It is a beautiful theatre – I did panto there a few years ago and I remember I had a ball,' he says. 'But I have a great affection for Norfolk as a whole.'

Karl has worked in theatre, television and film throughout most of his working career. He starred in sitcom Get Some In! in 1978 but went on to really make a name for himself as painter and decorator Jacko in Brushstrokes, who was constantly getting himself in scrapes.

He later starred as the mysterious Mulberry in a show that lasted two series and other television credits have included appearances in the likes of Minder, Fox and A Fine Romance.

On stage, he has again worked in a range of productions, including Me and My Girl, in which he played lead character Bill Snibson, which was written for him, for a record-breaking year at the West End's Adelphi Theatre.

He also spent 11 years starring in Radio 4's King Street Junior followed by three series in Coming Alive.

In The Mousetrap, Karl plays the mysterious Mr Paravicini, a foreign gentleman who turns up at a remote guesthouse, where in the best traditions of the famous crime tales, a murder takes place.

'It is a great role. He says he's from Italy but you don't quite know - and that is the fun of it,' he says. 'I have always liked Christie. When I was a teenager, one of the very first thrillers I read was The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and I am a big fan of Poirot too.

But he adds: 'I didn't know The Mousetrap, however. It was one of those shows you'd walk past in London and think: 'I really must go to see that one day.''

The play also stars Bruno Langley, who played troubled Todd Grimshaw in Coronation Street, and acclaimed actor Graham Seed, whose most recent high-profile part was Nigel Pargeter in The Archers.

The cast also includes three former actors from EastEnders – Elizabeth Power (Arthur Fowler's love interest Mrs Hewitt), Jemma Walker (Albert Square pole-dancer Sasha Perkins), and Steven France (Ben Mitchell's boxer friend Duncan).

Karl says he is thrilled with the response the thriller is getting and the speed at which tickets seem to be selling out wherever it plays.

'There is a certain demographic that loves Christie and it is wonderful that although nothing ever changes in the stories they still appreciate them so much,' he says.

'I think there is an enormous nostalgia for the stories and the eras in which they were set. The production has to remain true to that time otherwise the stories would not work – if even just one character had a mobile phone, for example, the plot would fail within the first 10 minutes.

'When people have to wait several days for the post to arrive to verify something, rather than checking it on the internet, it adds to the drama of the situation!'

At the end of the run, Karl plans to take a long holiday, and will then settle down to some writing. He enjoys penning his own work, among which was feature film Fathers of Girls, starring Ray Winstone, which had its world premiere at the Empire Leicester Square, in September 2010.

'What is great about this stage in my career is that I can really go by what I want to do now,' he adds.

'Like The Mousetrap, which is celebrating its 60th year on stage, I am in my 60th year too – and I am really enjoying everything I do.'

t The Mousetrap, Norwich Theatre Royal, April 22-27, £28.50-£6.50, 01603 630000 or visit:


Agatha Christie's Three Blind Mice began as a 1947 radio drama in honour of the dowager Queen Mary. It was based on a recent real-life crime but the name wasn't original, so it had to be altered for the stage adaptation which premiered 'in the provinces' on October 6, 1952.

The producer predicted that the re-named The Mousetrap, opening at London's New Ambassadors Theatre, near Leicester Square, that November, would run for 14 months. Agatha thought eight.

It is still running more than 24,000 performances later (with a switch to the next-door St Martin's Theatre in 1974) and enjoying its Diamond Jubilee. Every evening sees a new world record.

It arrives at Norwich Theatre Royal next week as part of a 60-week tour arranged to coincide with the anniversary, but catch it now because it's a one-off: St Martin's Theatre likes to protect its property, expecting theatregoers to come to London to see it. This explains why there has never been a film.

The play itself is a curious mixture of 1950s drawing-room comedy and murder mystery.

'Audiences have been attentive and focused,' says Ian Watt-Smith, director of the touring show, 'with lots of laughs as well as oohs and aahs at the reveals. No one is quite what they seem. They all have secrets. You have to encourage the characters to play the real backstory and then cover it up, which is a challenge.'

Amazingly for a show that's been running so long, and has been seen by so many, audiences still leave nightly with a fervent request not to reveal the ending. But let's at least set the scene...

A woman has been murdered in London. Young Mollie and Giles Ralston have opened a guest house in faraway Monkswell Manor.

A cast of unsettling guests is further cut off by blizzards, through which a policeman (first played by a young Richard Attenborough, his wife, Sheila Sim, played the first Mollie Ralston) skis in to warn of a killer on the loose... In typical fashion, the killer and the motive come in the final scene. Pure Agatha Christie.