In 1947 Queen Mary requested that a special radio broadcast of “an Agatha Christie play” could mark her impending 80th birthday. With the event in mind, Christie wrote a thirty-minute play titled Three Blind Mice. By 1952 these thirty minutes had grown into a fully staged play and The Mousetrap was born. Even the Queen of Crime herself could not have predicted the lasting impact of her play. 62 years later, The Mousetrap is the world’s longest running production, drawing London tourists to St Martin’s theatre for an evening of murder, mystery and a record breaking performance.
Before the curtain rises, the audience hears the murder of a woman in London. The killer, as later overheard on a radio, was wearing a dark overcoat, light scarf and soft felt hat. Meanwhile, young couple Mollie and Giles Ralston are opening their new guest house, Monkswell Manor. As each guest arrives, conveniently dressed in overcoats, scarves and hats, Mollie notes that each guest is “either unpleasant or odd.” With a mysterious foreigner, a grumbling elderly lady and an over excited young man amongst the guests, things take a turn for the worse when all seven guest house inhabitants find themselves snowed in. A Detective Sargent arrives on skis to warn that the darkly clad murderer may be on his way to Monkswell Manor… but will the killer make it to the Manor? More importantly, has the killer already arrived?
Christie’s plot is laced with intricate details that are slowly placed together to reveal the back stories and motivations within the play. Its extensive run aside, The Mousetrap is known for its plot twisting ending and shocking revelation. It is credited to contain “nerve-shredding moments” and “an atmosphere of shuddering suspense” yet as the murderer was revealed, one could not help but feel slightly unfulfilled. Perhaps this is due to my successfully predicting the murderer during the play’s twenty-minute interval or perhaps this is because the previous Christie play I saw (And Then There Were None, Dundee Rep Theatre) contained a much more shocking twist and scenes of a higher intensity. Regardless of The Mousetrap‘s disappointing twist, it must be acknowledged that no individual could possibly piece together the entire story prior to the on-stage revelations and for this, Christie must be credited for creating such complex and unpredictable plots.
Many have questioned the secret behind The Mousetrap‘s longevity and as the show propels itself towards its 62nd anniversary, I must do the same. With the London production playing to midweek audiences of (sometimes) only half of St Martin’s maximum capacity and a UK tour stopping at more than forty venues, will The Mousetrap live on for another ten, twenty, thirty years? Curiosity will continue to bring audiences to The Mousetrap yet I cannot help but wonder if my disappointment reflects the demanding desires of a younger generation of theatre fans.