Alex Rathgeber ‘Mousetrap’ interview
I very recently had the honour and pleasure of chatting with Australian Musical Theatre legend Alex Rathgeber to get some inside scoop on Agatha Christie’s murder mystery ‘The Mousetrap’ starting previews at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre on the 17th of February. Here’s what he had to say.
Welcome to That theatre life Alex, Agatha Christie’s ‘The Mousetrap’ celebrated it’s 70th anniversary last year. What did you know about this play before auditioning?
Before auditioning I didn’t know too much, I knew that it was a long running show because when I lived in London it was showing, that was 2007-2008 but I didn’t see it. And to be honest I didn’t know much about Agatha Christie either, I knew she was a prolific writer and some of the classic titles she had written like Murder on the Orient Express. But just those vague references. I certainly hadn’t read the play, I didn’t know the story or who done it and I’m not going to talk about that here [laughs] But my knowledge was quite limited, so it was exciting to kind of embark on a investigative journey which goes hand in hand with the style of show too.
Do you think it was helpful not knowing who done it or the story for that matter?
Well I didn’t know who done it. When I put down my self-test audition I read the script and figured out who all the different characters were and that sort of thing. But yes I think not having a reference point is quite helpful. Your only coming in with preconceived ideas of who these people are and can take a fresh approach to the piece.
What was the audition process like?
There always nerve wracking especially these days with the self-test style of doing things where we record ourselves at home or in a studio and you send off your tape.Your not in the room with the director getting feedback and trying things. So you really have to make strong choices and commit to them and back your own interpretation of the piece and hope for the best and that’s what I did. And it was sort of fortunate it went my way. I had worked with Robyn Nevin our director before when we did the Drowsy Chaperone for Melbourne Theatre Company back in 2009 but that was in the capacity of us both being in the cast. But now of course she’s the director. But I think having that association with her and having worked together in the past helped her understand who I am as a actor and hopefully she could see the work I’d done over the years.
You’ve previously been in musicals before what drew you to this play?
There’s an intensity to this play that I love, It’s a murder mystery so getting into the nitty gritty of all the characters and the story as it unfolds, the stakes are high but there’s also a real joy as it’s quite comedic. It’s a really nice balance of styles with the drama, suspense and comedic elements. So I love straddling those different territories with this piece.
What can you tell potential audience members about your character?
Giles Ralston is his name, He is married to Mollie and they recently inherited Monkswell Manor from Mollie’s aunt. So it’s been handed down through the family. They only were recently married about a year ago also. So there’s a lot of love bubbling in the air between Giles and Mollie. He’s madly, head over heels for her. And that’s sort of where the place starts. I can’t reveal too much beyond that. But he’s a devoted husband. He is committed to making the best out of thus guest house and it’s the first time that they’ve had guests. So we arrive at the start of the play when there first greeting guests for the first time. Giles is also a very dutiful husband going and doing all the carrying of the bags out in the snow. The snow gets heavier and he just keeps going out to greet all the arrivals and bring in their bags and chop the wood, load up the boiler and do all the chores around the house. So I guess it’s very sort of 1952 husband.
How is the mousetrap diffrent from other projects you’ve done in the past?
I think the period in 1952 English countryside and the setting are really sort of strong indicators of how it feels to do a play like this. There’s certain sort of social commentary, political commentary. There’s a really strong kind of psychological analysis I suppose. Which I think Agatha Christie was particularly adept at, you really going into the psychology of each character and their uniqueness of their backstory and all that sort of stuff. So I just love all the dissection of all those elements. To not be singing from start to finish is a completely different thing as well. As you sort of touched on. And again with the 1952 era, the costumes, the design, everything is really a particular point in time and in the world. It’s just after World War 2 life was really different back then. Of course this play started out as a radio play so it lives in that time where entertainment was largely on the radio. Their entertainment was by listening to the wireless as they called it. They didn’t have phones, they didn’t have the internet, they didn’t have Netflix and all those other streaming services or anything technological that we have to entertain us. So talking to one another was a was a huge form of entertainment. So shock horror people used to have to talk to each other to entertain themselves which is kind of beautiful. All of that makes for a really strong dialogue, heavy piece and I think they had a really firm grasp of language too in that era.
Why do you think Agatha Christy’s works are still so popular today?
I think this particular story, I can’t really speak too much to the many other things that Agatha Christie wrote, because they’re not my area so to speak. But with the mouse trap what I’ve observed with this is the, the mystery of who done it really does hold a lot of the explanation, I think for why this piece has stood the test of time for 70 years. And the audience over the years have held onto that and respected that and honored that. The the way it unfolds in the play itself is really interesting and fascinating we feel the audience leaning in and going completely quiet in certain sections because they’re listening and you can always hear the cogs turning. We repeatedly have people coming out after seeing the show and sharing who they thought had done it along the way. And It’s been completely different. Everybody has a different suspect. They’d say oh I was certain it was you, I was certain it was the major. And I think that says a lot. And then as I’ve touched on before the comedy, it’s a really entertaining piece and I think that’s a really pleasant surprise. And some of that comes from more obvious humour, visual sort of style humour. And that largely comes down to the actor and the director and different choices that are made for the production. But then there’s a lot in the text too that is really inherently amusing for different members of the audience depending on their age and their understanding of the references and that sort of thing.
What is your favourite moment in the play?
I love that as the show goes on from week to week month to month getting to know the piece so thoroughly that you can really play around with the moments in between the dialogue. Especially in between the moments where I have dialogue and there’s a lot of listening to be done, You can make the tiniest little moves that suggest something different to the audience about who your character is. And as an actor that is the sort of nerdy thrilling part of it. That we can just make these little slight adjustments from show to show. As an audience member you probably don’t notice it coming twice in a row you just think you saw the same thing. But but that’s where we find the joy is just making those little those little slight tweaks. Oh I didn’t really answer your question. I think my favourite moment without giving anything away is that it’s particularly fun when everyone arrives and the audience meets each of the characters for the first time because It’s done quite sequentially. They all arrive in close succession at the top of the show and they’re all really different. And my character Giles is a part of each of their arrivals because as I said before he’s greeting them and carrying their bags and welcoming them into the guest house with Mollie. The audience also know they’ve come to see a murder mystery, there’s that sense of they’re already trying to figure out Who the killer is? They’ve got their preconceived ideas. So it starts right from the very first moment of the show as soon as the curtain goes up, as soon as they hear the first sound cue.
Why should audiences come and see The Mousetrap?
Fir all the reasons I just said, to be honest because it’s really thrilling to be a part of the audience. There’s something about the communal experience of seeing any show but particularly where the audience are actively involved. They are very much almost a character, part of the show because we give an invitation really for them to kind of come along on this journey and be the sleuth and figure it out. It’s almost like a challenge is thrown to the audience to actively engage, not just sit back passively and be entertained. So there’s a really unique feeling about our relationship with the audience on this show and I think people really love that and step up into that, people that have been to this sort of show before, and then you get a lot of people that may not have seen a murder mystery and they come out just having had a really great time and being also very entertained which is great.
Thankyou Alex for joining me today I wish you all the best for the Melbourne season of Mousetrap and I can’t wait to see the show.
Phantom of the opera
I recently attended the Melbourne media call for Phantom of the Opera (now playing at the arts centre) ahead of opening night. And Melbourne let me just say that your honestly in for a real treat. I had goose bumps and tears and it wasn’t even the full show. But don’t take my word as you’ll see by these sneak peaks that it’s a show not to be missed.
I very recently had the great joy & privilege of attending the media call for Charlie & the chocolate factory ahead of their season here in Melbourne. Naturally, I was beyond thrilled, but I have a confession to make, I didn’t know what to expect as it was my first big major one (yes I know) but I was pleasantly surprised at how smoothly & professionally it was handled. Once greeted & escorted into the theatre of her majesty’s, we were greeted by the show’s director who introduced each of the three numbers the cast performed & also gave us a good insight into the show/cast as a whole. My little theatre heart was right at home taking videos & photos of the jazzy numbers, all the while not being able to wipe the smile off my face.
After the proceedings, we then were invited to meet some of the lead cast & given the opportunity of short interviews. The cast were all so down to earth & generous with their time. But due to being pushed for time I was grouped with another two people to do the interviews. I only managed to ask one question each to the cast members as the others were quite pushy in getting in their bit. So I apologize for that, as I would have liked to have done more. But I hope you enjoy all the media call content none the less.
Elijah Slavinskis (Charlie Bucket)
Yesterday’s media call was a dream and if I’m honest one of those pinch me moments. I so love being apart of this industry (even if it’s at times small) I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Georgina Hopson (Lily)
First media call back since covid19 shut down theatre across Melbourne. Oh how very special this morning was.
Fun home media call
Another day another Media Call today it was for Melbourne’s Theatre Company’s Production of Fun Home. Always count myself so blessed to be able to do what I do and support such amazing people.
Courtney Monsma interview ‘In the light’ album release
I recently had the honour and pleasure of chatting with Queensland musical theatre star Courtney Monsma on her debut album release ‘In the light’ The debut album features nine covers that musical theatre lovers will adore and also one original that was written during Frozen’s Covid shutdown in Melbourne last year. Listeners will recognise several of the cover tracks including Sara Barellies ‘She Used To Be Mine’ from Waitress and Jason Robert Brown’s ‘I’m Not Afraid of Anything’ from Songs For A New World. The Album also features two very special tracks from Frozen The Musical ‘True Love’ and ‘I Can’t Lose You’ a heart felt duet with Courtney’s co-star Jemma Rix who plays Elsa in the hit Broadway show. ‘In The Light’ is now available to purchase in cd form from courtneymonsma.com and available to stream on Itunes and spotify
Welcome to That theatre life Courtney and congratulations on your debut album ‘In The Light’ it is devine. What was it that sparked your interest in performing initially? specially in musical theatre
I remember I was eight years old and I watched my older sister perform in the musical Annie and I remember sitting there and hearing the orchestra and watching the show and realising how amazing theatre was. And that was the moment where I knew I wanted to pursue it.
Your Album is incredibly moving, what were your musical influences for this album and what was the best thing about recording and creating a body of work compared to someone else’s?
Definitely, I think music itself is very inspiring and it makes you feel a certain way. So I think that was my biggest inspiration was how does this make me feel and how can that be impactful? That came into play a lot when we were recording just to try and make the songs sound a little different, that was really important to me. I’ve got lots of musical influences, all the composers in the songs I was singing are incredible. So they definitely influenced my choices. But I just wanted it to feel a bit more authentic to me. But my favourite part was having the license to play and to play around with the songs. In live performance you do it once. So it was nice to be in that controlled environment. I felt quite calm which was nice.
What was the process like creating the album, choosing the songs, the recording structure and how did you choose the songs you wanted to feature?
So I was actually going to the studio after Frozen shows of a night and also on my day off i’d go so it was a very busy time but also really exciting to do. When it came to picking the songs I started with a very long document. I wanted to try and cover different genres so I had a few options for each and then narrowed it down in terms of what story I would best tell. It was hard but I think I was happy in the end.
Are any of the songs your favourite or hold a special meaning to you?
I honestly think it depends on the day and when I listen to it. One moment I can be like oh that one and then the next no wait its that one. But I do think ‘She Used To Be Mine’ is a very favourite song for me. I always love singing Sarah Barellies music it’s just so beautifully written. And I don’t think I’d be ready to play that role ever. so being able to tell that story on an album is really exciting for me.
Your currently playing Princess Anna in Australia’s Frozen what attracted you to the role and what is it like playing a beloved Disney Princess?
I think it speaks for itself, you know Anna is such a cool character. She’s so quirky and she leads with her heart, she’s courageous. And I just loved all the qualities about her. I also have an older sister, so I was relating to that as well with Anna. Then of course seeing the show on Broadway made me go wow she gets such cool material to sing. So that definitely made me want to play her. It’s amazing to play her but she’s also hard work like she doesn’t stop running around ever, but it’s super rewarding. And if I’m honest with you still a challenge everyday even though we’ve done the show for over a year.
What is it like playing alongside Jemma Rix and having her sing on the album?
It’s a true honour and I mean that, She is one of my favourite people ever and I aspire to be like her. So it’s an honour to work with her on stage. She’s the best Elsa and having her apart of the Album is a really nice thing for me to have and look back at this time shared together.
What three performers dead or alive would you love to have a dinner party with and why?
My ultimate would be Judy Garland, Wizard Of Oz was my favourite film. And I think she had it pretty rough in her career and I would just love to talk to her. I think she is so amazing. I would have to have Jemma Rix there to as I think she’d also love to ask some questions. I’d also love to meet Elvis that would be amazing.
Do you have a role in any musical theatre or theatre straight piece that you are dying to play?
It changes all the time, I actually don’t think I know at the moment. I think Anna is so challenging so I feel very fulfilled in that. But Definitely when I’m older I really want to play Mama Rose in Gypsy or Fanny Bryce in Funny Girl. That would be pretty cool.
Thankyou Courtney for joining me today I wish you all the best for your debut album success and the tour of Frozen the musical.
Six The Musical Media Call
Given the last two years of covid shutdowns any chance I have of doing what I love and supporting melbourne’s theatre industry is a real blessing and privilege. And yesterdays media call for Six was no exception. Enjoy this sneak peak of two numbers from the show.
9 to 5
Another day another media call… Melbourne if 9 to 5 the musical doesn’t put a smile on your face i don’t know what will. I had the joy of attending the media call ahead of opening night and let mw tell you your in for a real treat. hope you enjoy this little sneak peak
I had the privilege of being at the media call for Hairspray today ahead of opening night on Monday night here in melbourne. And wow let me just say your in for a real treat. Hope you enjoy this sneak peak into the going’s on of today and my chat with Rob Mills.