Louise Jameson: '˜The Mousetrap is something that's quintessentially British, it's quite an honour to be part of that'
This isn't the first time Louise Jameson has tackled one of Agatha Christie's classic creations.
The actress is currently starring as Mrs Boyle in the touring version of The Mousetrap, but she has previously played the dame’s much-loved amateur sleuth Miss Marple in a production of A Murder Is Announced on a UK tour in 2014.
‘I played Miss Marple a couple of years ago, so I’m no stranger to her work,’ says Louise, when WOW247 catches up with her as the production gets in to York.
‘It was quite tough really, because she’s such an iconic figure and everyone has an idea how she should be played. I didn’t want to mimic anyone else, I wanted to make her my own.
‘The thing about Miss Marple is that she’s like a three-year-old trapped in an old lady’s body.
‘I think there was some criticism that I had played her too young, but I think she has all the vitality and intelligence of a 20-year-old.’
But for now she is part of the touring production of the record-breaking show The Mousetrap.
The Mousetrap is famous around the world for being the longest-running show of any kind in the history of theatre, with more than 26,000 performances in London’s West End – it can still lay claim to be in its opening run.
For its 60th anniversary, a touring production visited regional theatres for the first time in its history, whilst the London run continued uninterrupted. And that touring production is now back on the road and coming to The New Theatre Royal in Portsmouth from March 14.
A slice of classic Christie, the scene is set when a group of people gathered in a country house and cut off by the snow discover, to their horror, that there is a murderer in their midst.
But who can it be? One by one the suspicious characters reveal their sordid pasts until at the last, nerve-shredding moment the identity and the motive are finally revealed.
Speaking of her role, Louise says: ‘She’s a grumpy old bag that I’m playing.
‘The show’s been running since 1952 – can you believe it?
‘It’s part of British history, it’s something that’s quintessentially British, it’s quite an honour to be part of that, really.
‘I turn 65 this year so I’m just a year ahead of The Mousetrap. It’s always been part of my life, whenever I’ve gone up to London it’s always been in the West End – I’m proud to be part of it now.’
Although Louise says she’d seen the play several times when friends were in it, she never thought she’d be in it herself – and while she initially had doubts about taking on the touring version, she’s glad she took the plunge.
‘The offer came through at the end of last year and I said to my agent: “Do I really want to do this?” And he said: “Yeah!” I said: “But what about the West End”, and he said: “No, do it on tour, it’s a packed house every night, a fantastic reception everywhere you go”, and it’s been true.
‘We’re carrying on the 60th tour – we’ve revisited places it’s been before and it’s still packed out. It’s been amazing.’
With the production taking place in ’50s fashion, it’s been striking a chord with theatre staff too.
‘It’s a good old-fashioned set that fits so nicely into proper theatres.
‘When we put it on in Brighton, they’d had a lot of avant garde stuff going on there, and all the crew just went ‘‘this is so great, this is what the theatre was made for’’. Proper theatre – with a capital P.’
It has also retained its speech at the curtain asking for people not to give the end away – which, as Christie included a clause that the story not be published in the UK while the play was still on its initial run, remains a well-kept secret.
‘Yes, we still have the speech asking please don’t give the end away and spoil it for other people – and that’s happened since day one, which has been great.’
Away from The Mousetrap another long-running saga continues to play a big role in Louise’s life – Dr Who. In the late ’70s she played Leela, the leather-clad warrior who joined Tom Baker’s fourth incarnation of the character on his travels through time and space.
‘It’s my pension,’ she laughs. ‘It’s taken me all over the world. Just this morning I had an offer to go to a convention in Miami in Florida.
‘It’s been absolutely extraordinary, I’m so proud to be part of that family.’
And she continues to play the character now, again alongside Baker, in a series of audio plays produced by Big Finish.
‘It’s just been fantastic and the ethos of the programme is so brilliant – right over wrong, pacifism over aggression, the goodie always wins, the peculiar aren’t made to feel peculiar – it has every good moral value going.
‘And Tom is extraordinary.’
Since appearing in Emmerdale in the early 1970s, Louise has been a TV regular, counting the girlfriend of the titular Bergerac for five years, or as an Italian matriarch in EastEnders in her numerous roles.
Curiously though, given the rather heavy-going of the subject matter – a group of ex-pat women being held in a Japanese internment camp after the fall of Singapore – it is the early ’80s BBC drama Tenko that provided Louise with her favourite-ever role.
‘It was streets ahead of all the others,’ she recalls. But wasn’t it harrowing to work on?
‘I think in a way that’s why it was so good, it was such dark matter –I’ve never laughed so much on a job in my life. It was written by a woman for women about women who’d actually existed, so there was a moral duty to do the very, very best job that we could.
‘It was very dark, very harrowing, but it was a brilliant script, the kind of stuff that actresses give their eye teeth for. And then there was this fantastic group of women who are very dear friends to this day.’
Working alongside Stephanie Cole and Stephanie Beecham, among others, she thinks it was the casting that helped make the show resonate so well.
‘Pennant Roberts who gave me both Dr Who and Tenko – he directed and cast both – was terribly good at getting a great company together, because he didn’t cast with just talent in mind, although obviously that’s uppermost in your mind,
‘He cast with an eye on who’s a team player and who can make it an ensemble company and who cares about the piece more than they care about themselves. You couldn’t do Tenko properly with vanity attached to it.’
The Mousetrap will be taking up Louise’s time until the summer, when she will be stepping down from playing Mrs Boyle after eight months on the road. But she already has her next project lined up, and it’s a bit of a change of scene from period whodunnit.
‘I’m doing a fringe show in London playing a Welsh homophobic ghost in a play called Diva Drag. It could not be much more different to this – except she’s also very angry.’
n The Mousetrap is at The New Theatre Royal in Portsmouth for eight performances from March 14 to March 19.
Tickets from £27.50. Go to newtheatreroyal.com or call the box office on (023) 9264 9000.