Unique in the world: Agatha Christie’s ‘The Mousetrap’

February 2, 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

The antique St. Martin’s Theatre on West Street, London WC2, UK, and Theatre Orangeville (TOV) have something very special in common: what happens in each of those theatres is unique to that theatre.

Specifically, here, TOV is unique in Canada, with the high standard of professional theatre produced as a given, more specifically, for its committed partnership between the  theatre and Community Living Dufferin (CLD), with the programs: Theatre Orangeville for Exceptional Players (TOEP) for special needs children, 11 to 17, and the Creative Partners On Stage (CPOS), theatrical productions partnered between the theatre and adult actors from CLD. The interaction and success of this partnership is unparalleled, across Canada, at the very least.

Across the pond, at St. Martin’s Theatre, what is unique in the world and ranks in the Guinness Book anew every performance, is the very special, very thrilling Agatha Christie play, the Mousetrap, now running continuously into its 66th year. As we were anyway in London last week, we went, as research into interesting theatre on behalf of readers of the Citizen, to see The Mousetrap for its 27,193rd performance. Honest.

The writing of the piece began, in 1947, as a birthday present to Queen Mary who was about to celebrate her 80th. The BBC, as a tribute, wanted to broadcast anything the queen would like to hear on the radio – she had only to make her wishes known. What she asked for was: “an Agatha Christie play.” Obligingly, Ms. Christie wrote a 30-minute play for Queen Mary’s birthday, called The Three Blind Mice.

The play was later expanded into The Mousetrap, becoming a legend which, carried by its own weight, has lasted 65 years and counting.

First produced at the Ambassadors Theatre on November 25, 1952, starring Richard Attenborough (who stayed for 700 performances) and Sheila Sim, it began breaking records  by April 12, 1958, when it became the longest running show in London’s West End with 2,239 performances.

Saturday, March 23, 1974, was the last production at the Ambassador and the show was transferred next door to the larger St Martin’s Theatre on the Monday (March 25) to open that very week.

St Martin’s Theatre was built in 1916, planned as a companion theatre to the Ambassador. It is still in the family that built it 100 years ago, the Willoughby de Broke family.

From then, every Mousetrap milestone, every ten years, was celebrated with an occasion at the Savoy to acknowledge the pleasure the play continued to bring to so many audiences. Ten years and twenty. There was a tremendous hurray at the 20,000th  show in 2000. The Savoy lunches brought together as many as there were of the actors who had ever performed in the Mousetrap, like a family reunion, growing in number by every gathering.

The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh came to the special 50th Anniversary Gala Performance on November 25, 2002.

In January, 2010, there was an invitation to bring a London cast and crew of Mousetrap to the Lyceum Theatre in Shanghai, China, where they played to packed houses for two weeks.

By the 60th Anniversary, the Diamond Anniversary, it was decided to celebrate with 60 different productions around the world, which they launched in November, 2011, the first of which was in Mandarin, back to Shanghai.

“The phenomenon that is Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap was playing in 60 countries around the world,” as Denise Silvey writes in the program, “and breaking box offices records everywhere.”

It was produced in Toronto too. Perhaps, you saw it then. Incredible organizing but so much fun and the play is worth the work, as the full houses everywhere averred.

Back in London, on the night of our attending it, we took a moment later to chat to one of the staff who commented how wonderful it is to be involved with the Mousetrap on every level. This lady has been working selling souvenirs for 12 years and assured us it is like working with an affectionate family.

In an early-morning interview on the telephone, Denise Silvey, Production Manger, remarked, “It’s quintessentially English.” She went on to explain how they keep it fresh and some of the history of the play’s life in the theatre.

“There is an entirely fresh cast every six months – it’s a brand new production. The new cast rehearse during the day while the old cast perform at night. The 1952 script is so good – [the characters] have all got background stories.”

The sets have been entirely replaced, some at a time, freshened and new. The only prop left that is original is the clock on the mantel.

There was a rumour that the ending changes but no, said Ms. Silvey, “There is no script change, certainly not. There was a time in the 1990’s when they updated some of the references but we’ve taken it right to what she wrote and it is so much better.”

She told us, “I’m an actress and I was in it in 1994. I do other things. We hold a celebration every 10 years and bring all the other actors who have performed in it. It is a great honour to be part of it.”

Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen, has been producer of The Mousetrap also since 1994. A man of many associations and experience in the British world theatre, Sir Stephen also founded Mousetrap Theatre Projects, in 1996, bringing thousands of youngsters to see theatre  in London who would not otherwise have the opportunity. As an educational charity, it works with disadvantaged and special needs young people to enrich their lives and fulfill their potential with programs that use theatre as “ a catalyst to learn new skills, challenge young minds and raise aspirations.”

Although no one, it seems, even Ms. Christie herself, had an explanation for the extraordinary life of The Mousetrap, Ms. Silvey is clear about why the audiences should keep on coming: “It’s very different. It is a living history and it’s fun. It’s witty and well written. And it’s a great ‘whodunnit.’”

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