Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Mousetrap

Last night Evan and I took ourselves to St Martin’s Theatre, near Leicester Square, to see Agatha Christie’s ‘The Mousetrap’, not wanting to be the only people in the world who have never seen it. Astonishingly, this play has been running for 58 years, and is far and away the longest running play in history. As the souvenir book rather confidently puts it: “In its first 58 years...” the play has had 390 different actors and actresses in its cast of eight, 221 understudies and 23 different directors, in more than 24,000 performances. *phew* We were at performance No. 24, 158 (they have a sign in the foyer).

Although the set and furnishings have had to be replaced (except the clock on the mantle shelf, which was there when the play opened on 6th October 1952), the design of the production remains quintessentially Agatha Christie, and an A.C. fan would certainly not be disappointed – quite the reverse, in fact.  In addition to being thoroughly Christie, it is a particularly good example of her genre. In all of its 58 years, the play has ended (nooo...I am not going to reveal who done it) with the leading man coming forward at the curtain call to ask the audience to keep the secret. It seems that generally speaking everyone has done so, except whoever wrote the Wikipedia page on the play, which in very bad form actually reveals the murderer’s identity.

I also found a rumour that the otherwise excellent Stephen Fry had revealed the ending on television. I don’t know if this is true, but if so, I am shocked.

The ending is a twist, the era evoked is charmingly British and the writing is sharp and amusing. On a rainy Tuesday night after 58 years the small theatre was over half full. As an institution you have to hand it to ‘The Mousetrap’.

The souvenir book of the play chronicles each year of its history, acknowledging the cast of the day, and putting the performances in their historical context. The first Leading Man was Richard Attenborough with Sheila Sim opposite as the leading lady. In the play’s first year, Eisenhower became president of the USA, Joseph Stalin died, Edmund Hilary and Sherpa Tensing summitted Mt Everest, Elizabeth II was crowned, the Korean armistice was signed and Frankie Laine and Cecil B. De Mille dominated popular music and film.
At this point, perhaps I should confess that amongst all those books I put in to storage in Sydney were dog-eared paperback copies of every single thing Agatha Christie ever wrote (except for a few that Annie kept out to read). I used to search them out in second-hand bookshops, and thoroughly enjoyed reading them. They were good books for the small-children years because they were light and quick and could be taken up and put down and didn’t require too much dedicated thinking. In a word, entertaining. Interestingly I have forgotten virtually all the plots, so after twenty years I am in the happy position of being able to read them all again as if for the first time, most probably. Or I could if they weren’t in a storage box in Sydney.
Here’s a quote from Dame Agatha that I enjoyed:

Agatha Christie 1809-1976
“It is difficult to say, but three months seems to me quite a reasonable time to complete a book if one can get right down to it. On the other hand, plays I think are better written quickly – and, of course, writing plays is much more fun than writing books; you haven’t got to bother about long descriptions of places and people...”

Some comments from local London theatre-goers:

And a discussion between the authoress and the original producer of ‘The Mousetrap’, Sir Peter Saunders, reported in her autobiography:

"Fourteen months I am going to give it", says Saunders. To which Christie replies, "It won't run that long. Eight months perhaps. Yes, I think eight months."

It was a dark and stormy night and four guests and their host and hostess find themselves snowed in at a country house hotel. A fifth mysterious guest arrives unannounced....and there has been a murder in London.

Image of Agatha Christie from

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