Perhaps best known to millions as Rodney’s wife Cassandra in Only Fools and Horses, Gwyneth Strong plays the formidable Mrs Boyle.
What attracted you to The Mousetrap?
I did it once before on tour, in 2019, and when I was asked ‘Would you like to do it again?’, my memories of that first time were so good that I thought ‘I’d love to do this again’. As an actor it’s lovely when you get another chance at something and I have such happy memories of it. The audiences love it so much and it’s got such a tinge of history, especially with it now being the 70th anniversary. I just thought ‘I definitely want to be part of that’.
How would you describe Mrs Boyle as a character?
For the poor young couple who are trying to run a guest house for the first time, she’s a nightmare guest. She’s the last person you’d want to have turn up when you haven’t really had much practice because she’s very fussy and has very high standards.
Can you recall when you first saw the play?
I hadn’t actually seen it before signing on for that first tour. As an actor you often have friends in shows that you go and see but that had never happened to me with The Mousetrap. Then I went to see it in London and I just fell in love with it. I thought it was so clever and had so many threads in it that are actually relevant now. For example, she talks about how people’s pasts affect their futures. Back then people didn’t talk much about that and they certainly didn’t put it in plays.
The show is celebrating its 70th anniversary. How do you account for its longevity?
I don’t know what it is but it’s got a magic about it. Even coming back to it now where I sort of know it, it feels new. That’s nice when you get a change of cast because everybody brings something a little different to their roles and you get a new energy and a new take on it. That’s one of the reasons I fancied having another go at playing Mrs. Boyle. That’s always nice, especially if you love the role. As for the success of the play itself, I haven’t got the answer. I don’t think anyone does, otherwise they’d write one themselves.
Does it surprise you, especially in an era of social media, that audiences don’t spill any secrets about who the murderer is?
It did surprise me before I was in it. Then when I was in it I understood why people don’t. It’s such a wonderful shared experience and there’s so little of that left now, where people come together and share something at the same time. They’ve proved that they want to keep shtum, as they say.
Why do you think theatregoers love a murder mystery?
People love to solve plots. We like the twists and turns and so many times, that first time round, people would say to me afterwards ‘We had a big row in the interval, me and my husband’ or ‘Me and my kids’. They’d be arguing about who they thought would turn out to be revealed as the baddie.
You came to fame in Only Fools and Horses but what have been your favourite jobs over the years?
There have been lots of theatre jobs. I recently did a play called Ladies of Letters with my friend Tessa Peake-Jones. Although it was a lot of hard work, with only the two of us in it, it was an incredible experience and it went down very well. I’ve liked many of the new plays I’ve done over the years and ones I’ve done at the Edinburgh Festival. And where does Only Fools and Horses rank? [Laughs] It’s got to be quite high up there, hasn’t it?
What do you most enjoy about doing theatre?
I like being part of a company. With this one it’s a big group of people coming together – a large cast, understudies, the crew – to make one thing work for a set of people night after night or on a matinee. I love that.
Why do you think Agatha Christie is the most successful novelist of all time?
She’s so clever at hooking people in. With her characters, you’re very quick to understand who they are. That’s not because they’re broadly drawn, it’s because she has a great ear and she can put people down on the page really well. Then of course there are the clever, intricate plots.
Is there any Mousetrap trivia you’ve been interested to learn?
It’s not about the play as such but I’m amazed that there’s no statue of Agatha Christie anywhere. I think that’s awful and I think there should be one. When you think of how prolific she was we should be more proud of her than we are, but then there’s a shortage of female statues in general.
The Mousetrap is running at the Lichfield Garrick from March 27 to April 1. For more information and to book tickets visit www.lichfieldgarrick.com