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Curtains rise tonight on Theatre Oxford’s version of ‘The Mousetrap’

Decades have passed since Agatha Christie’s murder mystery play “The Mousetrap” first premiered in London in 1952. Sixty-four years later, the play is still running in the city’s West End theater district, making it the longest first run of a theatrical production in history.

Can’t make the jump across the Pond to see it? No problem, because Theatre Oxford is bringing it to town opening tonight.

The play takes place during a snowstorm in an old British manor that has been converted into a guesthouse. Once all the home’s occupants have arrived on the scene, a murder occurs, leaving the guests and owners of the boarding house to deduce the identity of the killer.

Matthew Shifflett, the play’s director and theatre teacher at Ole Miss, says that he grew up reading Christie novels, so when he was asked to join the show, he already had an interest in the subject.

“I think what’s appealing to me about this play is that, like all of Christie’s novels, it’s really about suspicion, and who we suspect and why we suspect them,” Shifflett said. “She plays a lot with how her characters come across.”

Shifflett added that most of the characters in the play are far from normal.

“There’s something about the different characters in this play that code them as different, that they are somehow not what society expects them to be,” he said. “And that’s what draws our suspicion to them. She really jangles our chains in that regard, using our prejudices against us.”

Although the play is considered a classic and performed widely, Shifflett noted that “The Mousetrap” presents its own unique challenges when producing the show.

“One of the challenges with Agatha Christie is always in the details, as with any murder mystery,” he said. “In order to work on it as an artist, you have to solve the mystery for yourself. You have to figure out which characters are in which room at which time. You have to map out all the details just the way a detective would.”

And even once the lights come up, Shifflett says that Christie’s works can leave the audience guessing.

“Christie doesn’t always wrap things up quite as neatly as you think she does,” he said. “She has a great sleight of hand where you feel like all the questions have been answered by the end. But you realize there are still a lot of questions, and, as an artist, you’ve got to answer those questions for yourself.”

“The Mousetrap” will run at the Powerhouse (413 S. 14th St.) today through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for students, seniors, and Theatre Oxford members while general Admission is $20. Tickets can be purchased online at theatreoxford.com or at the door.