The Mousetrap is the genre-defining murder mystery from Dame Agatha Christie DBE, the world’s best-selling novelist.
Christie’s signature piece of work is, of course, And Then There Were None, which has sold approximately 100 million copies, making it one of the top-selling books of all time.
Christie is known for creating two of the world’s most famous fictional investigators: the amateur sleuth Miss Marple and the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. The latter is the main character in novels such as Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, both of which were recently adapted to the big screen by Sir Kenneth Branagh.
Christie’s famous plays include the stage adaptation of Witness for the Prosecution, which has been revived three times in recent years – including a a unique courtroom staging of the play, which is still playing at London County Hall.
But her most famous play, is, of course, The Mousetrap. The longest-running show in history, it is embarking on a UK tour to celebrate its 70th anniversary.
The premise of the play is as follows: “As news spreads of a murder in London, a group of seven strangers find themselves snowed in at Monkswell Manor, a remote countryside guesthouse. When a police sergeant arrives, the guests discover – to their horror – that a killer is in their midst. One by one, the suspicious characters reveal their sordid pasts. Which one is the murderer? Who will be their next victim?”
The Mousetrap began life as a short radio play written by Agatha Christie as a birthday present for Queen Mary, the consort of King George V. It was broadcast in May 1947, under the name Three Blind Mice. The story drew from the real-life case of Dennis O’Neill, who died after he and his brother, Terence, suffered extreme abuse while in the foster care of a Shropshire farmer and his wife in 1945.
The play is based on a short story, itself based on the radio play, but Christie asked that the story not be published as long as it ran as a play in the West End of London. The short story has still not been published within the United Kingdom but it has appeared in the United States in the 1950 collection Three Blind Mice and Other Stories.
In the UK, only one production of the play, in addition to the West End production, can be performed annually, and under the contract terms of the play, no film adaptation can be produced until the West End production has been closed for at least six months (and it shows no signs of closing any time soon).
The stage adaptation of The Mousetrap had its world premiere at Theatre Royal, Nottingham in October 1952 and toured the UK over the next two months. In late November 1952, it opened in the West End – where it has stayed, ever since (with a pandemic-forced closure from March 2020 until May 2021).
The played ran at the Ambassadors Theatre until 23rd March 1974, immediately transferring to the larger St Martin’s Theatre, next door, where it reopened on 25th March – thus keeping its “initial run” status. The play has been at St Martin’s Theatre ever since. It has been performed close to 30,000 times, with over 10 million tickets sold.
Christie did not expect The Mousetrap to be anywhere near as successful as it is. In her autobiography, she reports a conversation that she had with Peter Saunders, the impresario behind the stage adaptation.
“Fourteen months I am going to give it”, says Saunders, too which Christie replies, “It won’t run that long. Eight months perhaps. Yes, I think eight months.”
In September 1957, it broke the record for the longest run of a play in the West End. Christie received a mildly grudging telegram from fellow playwright Sir Noël Coward: “Much as it pains me I really must congratulate you …” By the time of Christie’s death in 1976, the play had made more than £3 million.
Since the retirement of Mysie Monte and David Raven, who each made history by remaining in the cast for more than 11 years (in their roles as Mrs Boyle and Major Metcalf, respectively), the cast has been changed annually. The change usually occurs around late November, around the anniversary of the play’s opening, and was the initiative of Sir Peter Saunders, the original producer. There is a tradition of the retiring leading lady and the new leading lady cutting a “Mousetrap cake” together.
The play has also made theatrical history by having an original “cast member” survive all the cast changes since its opening night. The late Deryck Guyler can still be heard, via a recording, reading the radio news bulletin in the play to this present day. The set was changed in 1965 and 1999, but one prop survives from the original opening – the clock which sits on the mantelpiece of the fireplace in the main hall.
The anniversary tour opened at Theatre Royal, Nottingham in late September – where it had its world premiere seven decades ago. The thriller will then visit over 70 venues across the country, including all the cities to which it originally played, including Manchester. Poetically, it will be playing at the Opera House – where it played as part of its original run.
The touring cast includes Todd Carty (EastEnders, Grange Hill, Dancing on Ice) as Major Metcalf and Gwyneth Strong (Only Fools and Horses, EastEnders) as Mrs. Boyle, alongside fellow EastEnders actor John Altman as Mr. Paravicini. The play also stars a couple of actors who previously starred in the West End production: Elliot Clay as Christopher Wren and Essie Barrow as Miss Casewell.
Todd Carty and Gwyneth Strong are scheduled to perform until May 6. Sadly, Carty is absent for the stint in Manchester, where the role of Major Metcalf will be played by Kieran Brown or Nicholas Maude.
So, come along to Manchester Opera House for an epic evening of wonderful wine and marvellous murder! Try not to get trapped…