by Korina Moss
If you’re a mystery reader, you’re surely familiar with Agatha Christie. She is the best-selling novelist of all time, having written 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections. She also wrote several plays—the most famous of which, The Mousetrap, has since become the world’s longest-running show.
This year The Mousetrap celebrates 70 years onstage. First performed on November 25th, 1952 at the Ambassador theater, it had a continuous run until all UK theaters went dark in 2020 during the pandemic. However, it re-opened fifteen months later and is still going strong. Because of its historic 70th anniversary, The Mousetrap was licensed to 70 theaters across the world, and I was able to see an original production of it in Hartford, Connecticut a few weeks ago.
Agatha Christie has played a large role in my love of mysteries and has had a great influence on me as a writer. I picked up my first Christie book, The ABC Murders, as a child from a box of used books in my family’s basement. Now, I’d read all the Nancy Drew books by then and Encyclopedia Brown, so I thought, at twelve years old, that I was a pretty savvy mystery reader. Of course, I was not prepared for Agatha Christie, and I was certainly no match for Poirot. When I finished the book, I was giddy that she’d stumped me, so I went back and read it again so I could look for the clues I’d missed. Sure enough, she’d laid them all out right in front of me and then proceeded so eloquently to misdirect me. She played fair with the reader, which was my first lesson in writing a good mystery. I was hooked and went on to read every Inspector Poirot and Miss Marple book she wrote.
When I had an opportunity to visit London in 1990, I knew my first theater experience there would be to see The Mousetrap in the iconic St. Martin’s theater in London’s West End, where it’s been showing since 1974. Since I was a Christie aficionado by then, I assumed I’d be able to figure out the play’s culprit. Just as I had when I was twelve, I underestimated Christie’s ingenuity.
|Dame Agatha's wax likeness at Madame Tussaud's in London, |
along with the program and tickets from the West End production, 1990
When I went to see the play again a few weeks ago at Hartford Stage, I wondered if it would still hold my interest since I already knew whodunit. I needn’t have been concerned—in the intimate theater, the cozy set design, colorful costumes, and amusing production made for an enjoyable show. And Dame Agatha struck again—the friend I attended with, cunning fellow mystery author, Shari Randall (who won an Agatha Award for best first mystery novel in 2019), didn’t guess whodunit either.
|The set of The Mousetrap at Hartford Stage|
Thanks to serendipity, I enjoyed one more encounter with The Mousetrap this fall. I went to see the movie See How They Run because it looked like a fun Knives Out type of murder mystery. Indeed, it was, but what I hadn’t realized beforehand was that the film centers around Christie’s play. This explains the movie’s title (taken from the nursery rhyme, “Three Blind Mice,” which also plays a role in The Mousetrap). It’s a fictionalized account taking place as The Mousetrap is celebrating its 100th performance. The actors who were in the actual play during that time—Richard Attenborough and Sheila Sim—are portrayed, as well as famous filmmaker John Woolf. When a murder occurs in the theater, everyone on set is a suspect. It’s cleverly done, with the final reveal taking place at Agatha Christie’s home. It manages to incorporate Christie’s play but doesn’t dare give it away. After all, the final words of See How They Run are directed to the audience and pay homage to the final line spoken in every performance of The Mousetrap, beseeching the audience to never reveal who the murderer is.
Here are some fun facts about The Mousetrap from the official Agatha Christie website (©Agatha Christie Limited 2022, The Home of Agatha Christie, https://www.agathachristie.com/ ):
• When The Mousetrap opened Mr. Winston Churchill was Prime Minister, much essential food was rationed, and television programmes ended at 10:30pm.
• The Mousetrap first entered the record books on April 12th, 1958 when it became the longest running show of any kind in the history of British theatre.
• In 1959 the cast of The Mousetrap, armed with various props, gave a special performance at Wormwood Scrubs prison. During the performance two prisoners escaped.
• Originally produced in Nottingham at the Theatre Royal, it toured England before embarking on a 32-year run at The New Ambassadors Theatre in London.
• In March 1974 the play moved from The Ambassadors Theatre to the St. Martin’s Theatre without missing a single show!
• In 2000, the set was replaced for the first time during the run at St Martin's Theatre, still to the same design as the original. This task was completed over a weekend without the loss of a performance.
• Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II attended the 50th anniversary performance on November 25th, 2002.
• On November 18, 2012 for one performance only, The Mousetrap celebrated its 25,000th performance (60th anniversary) with a celebrity-filled cast including Hugh Bonneville, Nicholas Farrell, Iain Glen, Tamsin Greig, Miranda Hart, Harry Lloyd, Sir Patrick Stewart and Dame Julie Walters. The Agatha Christie memorial statue was unveiled for this occasion.
• The 28,000 performance in the West End took place on 12th of October 2019.
• On an occasion such as cast changes or milestone anniversary performances, a cake is ceremoniously cut with a sword. The cake is in the shape of a ticker counter that keeps track of the amount of performances.
• Every performance of The Mousetrap sets a new world record for the number of performances and after each performance the audience is asked 'to preserve the tradition of The Mousetrap by keeping the secret locked in their hearts.'
• The contract terms of the play state that no film version can be made until the West End show has been closed for at least six months, and since it is still running—no official film has been made!
Are you a fan of Agatha Christie's work?